As stories about nightmare Housing New Zealand tenants come to light across the country,Stufftakes a look at HNZ’s sustainable tenancies policy, and what it means for the people it serves – and their neighbours.
WHAT ARE SUSTAINABLE TENANCIES FOR?
A spokesman for Housing NZ said the overall aim or goal of sustainable tenancies is to help people remain in, or get back to, a state of well-being and help them to lead happy, balanced, fulfilling lives.
Police are often called to a Housing NZ home in what used to be a quiet Motueka street, residents say.
The definition of a sustainable tenancy is one where people have a warm, secure and safe home in which to base themselves.
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Globally, health and social well-being experts all agree, and evidence supports, that keeping people housed is a starting point to help them deal with complex challenges in their lives such as homelessness, poor life skills and mental health problems.
Dale Bradley, area manager at HNZ, said the policy exists to keep people in a stable home environment as it’s which is the best way for life’s challenging situations.
“We sought advice from a wide range of health and social planning experts here in New Zealand and overseas,” he said.
“We investigated different housing setups – from individual properties to mini-communities. All the advice we received emphasised the need for communities to be inclusive and blended – age, sex, vocation, life status – and that thinking extends beyond Housing New Zealand tenancies.”
“We provide homes to well over 180,000 people. We have more than 63,000 properties across the country. Our tenants are like everyone else in the country. They live in, go to school in, go to work in, retire in and generally take part in, the communities in which they live.”
Bernadette Pinnell, of South Auckland social enterprise Compass Housing Services, has conducted extensive research on the benefits of social housing.
If a tenant is evicted from social housing they have few accommodation options open to them – particularly in the current NZ rental market, she said.
“The way tenancies are managed can have a significant impact on the tenant and importantly their family outcomes,” Pinnell said.
“There is international longitudinal research that shows if a child experiences bout of homelessness or insecure housing, their long term wellbeing, education attainment and life opportunities will be detrimentally impacted.”
HELPING TENANTS BECOME GOOD NEIGHBOURS
HNZ was playing an “increasingly active role in its tenants’ lives providing them with modern, warm, safe and dry homes and support services that will help them live their lives well in both good and bad times,” Bradley said.
“We start by working with them on a tenancy agreement. It is signed by the tenant and includes sections about acting as good neighbours and an expectation that tenants be responsible, considerate and law-abiding. It involves taking good care of the property and keeping to the number of people entitled to live at it.
“We’ve also moved to work closely alongside our more vulnerable tenants and get them levels of support. This includes employing Intensive Tenancy Managers who both work alongside and connect our tenants to other support services in the community. This may be assistance from other government agencies such as health services and welfare support or non-government organisations that can help with budgeting and household management.”
The HNZ website has a section for tenants, describing how to be a good neighbour.
HNZ has a list of responsibilities that tenants agree to by signing a tenancy. There’s a short mention of neighbours that states: “Consider your neighbours”.
Also in the tenancy it mentions: “If you break the conditions of your agreement, and it has a serious impact upon us or any other person, we will ask the Tenancy Tribunal to end your tenancy immediately.”
HNZ area manager Derek Osborne said: “Housing New Zealand always helps tenants settle into their homes and their community. A key focus of ours is to ensure that tenants understand their responsibilities and that includes being good neighbours and connecting with their communities.”
“While Housing New Zealand aims to keep tenants housed, we will work with neighbours or other members of the community to help address issues. Tenants, like everyone else, are subject to the laws and by-laws of New Zealand. We work with many agencies such as local councils, Oranga Tamariki, MSD and Police when issues arise.”
TO EVICT OR NOT TO EVICT
While they would aim to keep tenants housed, Housing NZ said they would help sort problems with neighbours or other members of the community.
An HNZ spokesman said: “In most cases we believe the right support from Housing New Zealand and interventions provided by health and social services will solve problems, however serious crimes related to a Housing New Zealand tenancy would be considered a cause for ending a tenancy.”
Bernadette Pinnell said the goal of sustaining tenancies and preventing eviction needed to be balanced with the need to protect the interests and safety of all tenants, to effectively manage limited housing stock and to weigh the relative responsibilities and rights of the landlord and tenant.
Tenancy failure and eviction can become a ‘revolving door syndrome’ whereby tenants are evicted move to emergency housing or homelessness and then are reclassified as ‘high priority’ status for rehousing because of their circumstances, she said.
“This cycle usually results in higher demand being placed on other public services, – police, health, education and social services – in both the short and long term.
“There are therefore cost-effectiveness and improved social outcomes justifications for the sustaining tenancies approach.”
For the sustaining tenancies programme to work effectively there has to be a social contract which is based on trust and reciprocity between the tenant and the landlord.
Internationally there is a shift by government housing agencies to transfer the tenancy management of an ‘at risk’ tenancy from public housing to a Community Housing Organisation, which can provide intensive and specialised support in a more responsive manner.
Community Housing Organisations often have more flexibility and as charitable non government agencies are able to reinstate a tenancy where tenants have entered into an agreement to remedy the tenancy breach thereby preventing eviction.
NEW POLICIES TO HELP SUSTAIN TENANCIES
In late September, Housing Minister Phil Twyford announced new HNZ policies that would become legislation “to provide decent housing, be a fair and compassionate landlord and to help sustain tenancies”.
Those included: Being a fair and reasonable landlord, treating tenants and their neighbours with respect, integrity and honesty; And assisting neighbourhoods and communities in which it operates housing to flourish as cohesive, safe and prosperous places to live.
But sticking to the policy is becoming a bigger problem around the country, prompting neighbours to approach the media with their terrible tales.
In Northland, dozens of residentscomplained to police and HNZ about state tenants’ intimidating behaviour, fighting, including with weapons, theft, drugs and partying in several residential streets.
While in Christchurch, neighbours of a modern Housing NZ complex claimed they were being driven out by burglaries, assaults and public defecationstemming from the social housing block.
Bradley said it was important to put recent complaints about HNZ tenants in perspective, which could be experienced in any part of the country.
“It is by no means representative of age, socio-economic status, ethnicity or anything else, including being a Housing New Zealand tenant,” he said.
Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford reinforced Bradley’s point and said antisocial behaviour is a wider societal issue.
“People from all walks of life can indulge in bad behaviour, including people who rent privately and those who own their own homes.
“Our Government is continuing the former government’s policy of sustainable tenancies as making people homeless only increases the burden on their communities, social services, the health and justice system, and their whānau.”