National | Kainga Ora

‘They’re not dog boxes’: The non-profit taking on Kāinga Ora

When Neha* collected up her most precious possessions in a box and hid them in a bushes, she had no idea where she was running to, she just knew she had to escape.

After 35 years of marriage the devoted mother had become the victim of family violence and was uplifted from her home by police.

“He wasn’t going to let me go. I thought I was going to have to die there,” Neha said.

She said there regular incidents, but authorities intervened after she was hit in the head with a hot frying pan and found by paramedics in a pool of blood.

After being placed in Women’s Refuge, Neha didn’t know how to begin her life again. She’s was among 25,000 Kiwis on the housing register waitlist, either homeless or scraping by.

Fortunately she was referred to Home in Place, a non-profit community housing provider who was able to give her a secure rental in an apartment building.

“When I walked in to the apartment, I started crying. I couldn’t believe this was for me. I have my own space and time to breath, to cry, to laugh.”

Housing crisis

Home in Place has carved itself out an innovative niche, partnering with iwi and private developers to manage a portion of their housing developments as social housing.

At the moment, the organisation doesn’t own any of its own homes, but it has nearly 400 properties on its books and is aiming to reach 700 by next year.

Far from it being a purely charitable act, chief executive Chris Trypas says developers have been cold calling him asking to partner up because of the financial advantage.

“Right now, I wouldn’t want to take a property to the mainstream market with the cost of living and high interest rates [impacting sales],” he says.

“It could make better financial sense to offer it as community housing [and receive a subsidy] while we are in a housing crisis.”

A key element of Home in Place’s model is placing tenants in “mixed tenure” developments, living alongside market buyers and renters in the same homes.

‘Will evict’

“We want people to see our community housing and think ‘they’re not dog boxes, you or I would live in them’.

“Gone are the day where we want to create large stand alone social housing blocks.”

However, he says that, unlike Kāinga Ora, Home and Place will evict tenants if it has to.

“If we move someone on because they are not meeting their obligations, we know its more than likely the next person from the waitlist will be a gracious tenant, and they also need a home.”

Housing Minister Chris Bishop has signalled that social housing is getting a shake up. During the campaign last year, National called Kāinga Ora a “giant bureaucratic monolithic monopoly”.

Bishop has said that he wants to make the Income Related Rent Subsidies (IRRS) which are paid to Kāinga Ora genuinely contestable by community housing providers.

Kāinga Ora ‘not in a great state’

He told a crowd of Wellington businesses this week that he thought community providers did a better job of providing wrap around support and unlocking new homes.

“Kāinga Ora is not in a great state... [it] sucks up an enormous amount of government capital, like tens of billions.”

The housing agency is under review, with the results set to be released by Sir Bill English later this month. Meanwhile, on Thursday, Vui Mark Gosche resigned as chair of Kāinga Ora.

Trypas views these rumblings as a sign that community housing providers are about to have their moment.

He says that having more of the government’s housing subsidies on Home in Place’s books will “build the balance sheet” and allow it to borrow to build its own housing.

Next year it is developing 28 townhouses in Rotorua with the intention of renting them out at 25% below market rent to teachers and nurses and others in “moderate” income professions.

“I am hopeful we will get a larger share of government funding. It shouldn’t all go to Kāinga Ora.”

*Not her real name. The interviewee’s identity has been concealed as she is subject to a protection order following a family violence incident.

- Stuff