FINANCIAL BLOW: Veronica Flats tenant Kenneth Goodhand is worried he and many of the other tenants of the 72 Tauranga Community Housing Trust units in Whakatane whose rents have been sharply hiked cannot afford the new rates. Photos Kathy Forsyth D9538-01

TENANTS of a community housing provider in Whakatane are in shock after hearing their rents will be hiked almost 25 percent.

Some of the tenants will be paying $192 a week for their one-bedroom units after being told their rents will increase $38 from April 7. One tenant said this would be up to 50 percent of some people’s income.

The 72 Whakatane units at Veronica Flats (11 units), Alice Stone Flats (28 units), Lovelock Court (22 units) and Allandale Flats (11 units) are operated by the Tauranga Community Housing Trust, which provides affordable housing to people on lower incomes. It says its mission and focus are unchanged, but the hikes are necessary to meet maintenance costs and new Healthy Homes compliance standards.

A tenant of Lovelock Court in Spence Lane said he believed all 22 units had increases of up to 25 percent.

“Some of the poor buggers can’t afford it, it is 50 percent of their income and they are more than annoyed,” the man said.

“It is $2080 annually they have got to find.

“One or two have got jobs, but they’re mostly pensioners in there and a lot of them are not in a well way.”

Tenants of other units in the Alice Stones Flats and Veronica Court said they had also been notified a week ago of similar rental increases and were also upset.

Grey Power secretary Susan Anderson said the increases were “ridiculous”.

“Housing NZ and most social housing networks say that a fair rent for those who are on the benefit or superannuation is 25 percent of their income. If you add the housing supplement to that, round about $150 from that would be fair as they would be paying round about $100 from their superannuation,” Ms Anderson said.

The flats were previously owned and managed by the Whakatane District Council but were taken over by the trust in 2015, a move that former mayor Tony Bonne said at the time would help ensure that affordable housing would continue to be available for the community into the future.

The trust said it had increased rents only once since 2015, by an average of $10 a week.

An Alice Stone Flats resident said in past years, including when the council managed the flats, rents were increased $10 a week every two years and they had not anticipated a $40 weekly hike.

“This time the increase has been a whopper.”

However, not all tenants have received big hikes. One tenant said her rent had increased only $5 a week to $105, but this was because she had obtained her flat through the Ministry of Social Development.

The trust’s general manager, Jacqui Ferrel, said about 28 percent of the tenants qualified for an income related rent subsidy from the MSD, and they encouraged the tenants to apply for subsidies, or to enquire about access to other financial assistance, such as an accommodation supplement.

“Not all new tenants decide to apply for this assistance or qualify. A surprising number have chosen not to seek this financial support. While I really do understand that this will be financially challenging for some tenants, I am comfortable that the new rent set is still considered ‘affordable’ and lower than current market rates,” said Ms Ferrel.

“I acknowledge that more regular, smaller rent increases may have made this appear easier for tenants rather than this one larger increase which may be causing some tenants anxiety … I don’t anticipate sharp increases to occur again unless new costs are introduced that are outside of our control.”

The tenants also questioned the trust’s claims about maintenance costs.

“What maintenance?” asked one Alice Stone Flats tenant, “the lawns were last mowed in December.”

Ms Ferrel said it was true that they had not had lawn mower contracting over the past four to five weeks because of the sudden and unexpected unavailability of the contractor employed for this, but this had been resolved with a new contractor engaged in mid-January who was making his way around the complexes.

“In relation to the ongoing maintenance of the properties I am concerned if we are not meeting some tenants’ expectations in this area and would appreciate more detail.”

Market rates for one-bedroom apartments in Whakatane range from $200 to $245, Tenancy Service says on its website. Its figures are based on bonds received over the past six months. It says the average market rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $215.