Pensioners already struggling to afford their groceries are among those facing rent increases of up to 40 per cent for Western Bay council flats.
On June 29, Western Bay of Plenty District Council adopted its 2021 – 2031 Long-term Plan, including a proposal to increase rent at its pensioner housing from $128 per week for a single unit to $180 a week (40.6 per cent). The rent for a double would go up from $183 per week to $220 (20.2 per cent).
A man living in Te Puke pensioner housing, who would not be named, said he didn’t know how he was going to cope.
“I’m paying $141 every fortnight for my car, I pay my food, bills, plus rent. How the hell are we supposed to live? We can live okay at the moment but when that goes up, I don’t know,” he said.
“They say ‘don’t worry about it too much because you can go to WINZ’ but I’m concerned.
“It’s going to be pretty damn hard.”
The New Zealand pension pays between $618.60 to $873.88 per single person a fortnight, depending on tax.
Another pensioner, who also spoke on the condition he was not identified, said he expected rent to increase “but not by that much”.
“That’s $50 a week. That’s a big jump. If it had been half of that, we would expect that. We are getting better facilities and they are trying to do more.”
The second man said he and others in his complex were appreciative of the council’s recent efforts at bringing their housing into line with Government rental regulation with upgrades including heat pumps and extractor fans. He believed the cost of doing so must be behind the rent increase.
However, despite receiving superannuation “we still have to watch what to spend it on”.
“Look at the price of groceries at the moment. We are supposed to eat healthy meat and veges but we can’t always afford it.”
Grey Power Western Bay and Tauranga vice-president David Marshall said pensioners were being left with very few options.
“By doing this increase, many will be paying upwards of 50 per cent of their pension in rent. These are people with very low resources,” he said.
Marshall said he knew of pensioners in the Western Bay using the foodbank because finances were so tight, despite receiving the superannuation allowance.
However, the increase was “understandable” given the increasing demands of rental standards, he said.
“That’s what makes it hard. They try to keep the cost down for pensioners but they have to do this development,” said Marshall, a former Western Bay councillor.
Marshall noted councils including Tauranga City were selling off their elder housing stock because the revenue from the rent was insufficient to or maintain them.
However, councils and RSA villages that provided housing were not eligible for the same funding afforded to Community Housing Providers, which allows tenants to pay just 25 per cent of the market value rent while the Government pays the rest.
Marshall said Grey Power would like to see this changed, or for the threshold for accommodation allowance significantly increased to meet rent increases.
Council deputy chief executive and group manager of infrastructure services Gary Allis confirmed they were meeting the Government’s Healthy Homes Standards and also investing in the housing “to ensure a good standard of accommodation is provided”.
This resulted in “significant operations and capital expenditure”.
The council has spent $323,000 to bring the housing in line with Government regulations.
Allis said staff have worked with pensioners to ensure the increased rent remained affordable and most tenants indicated they could afford it.
“Council will consider any request for hardship caused by the increase on a case-by-case basis.”
Allis said staff were also working with tenants to ensure they maximise the benefit of the Accommodation Supplement, which could mean pensioners paying an additional $17.10 per week instead of $50.
Asked how many tenants were eligible for the supplement, Allis said the council could not say as this was private information.
Western Bay council owns 70 units across the district: 34 in Te Puke, 19 in Waihi Beach, and 17 in Katikati.
The housing is rented out at below market value to applicants who meet criteria such as being aged 65 years or older, on the pension, and able to demonstrate a genuine housing need. Would-be renters are assessed on the basis of having assets with a value of no more than $20,000 per person or $25,000 for joint applicants.
Ministry of Social Development group general manager client service delivery Kay Read said it supported many pensioners living in council housing through the Accommodation Supplement depending on eligibility.
Read said in response to Marshall’s concerns that the supplement was expected to be considered as part of a review into a wider Welfare Overhaul work programme.
She said pensioners could also receive help for other housing costs such as repairs, rates and power bills depending on need.
Age Concern Tauranga general manager Tanya Smith recommended anyone feeling concerned or anxious about paying this to contact Work and Income New Zealand’s seniors’ department for help.
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