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Community housing transfer would change instructions

Opinion Piece

Whether Gisborne District Council’s community housing should be put under the control of Gisborne Holdings Ltd is going to create an interesting discussion.

Last week a council committee and GHL virtually finalised the statement of intent (SOI) that will cover the two activities already managed by (but not yet officially handed over to) GHL — Waikanae Beach Top 10 Holiday Park and the Vehicle Testing Station.

Community housing is next in the queue (along with Gisborne Airport) but there’s a complication over what purpose the council’s housing stock fills in the city’s economic and social scene, now and into the future.

The two parties agreed last week that the SOI, to be confirmed later this month, might have to be amended if community housing goes across to GHL. That is because the SOI contains a clause that the council must not instruct GHL to act in a non-commercial manner.

Information given to the council by GHL general manager Matt Feist, who was formerly the council’s commercial operations manager, indicated that the 120 housing units produced an operating surplus which allowed a high standard of maintenance. That created the prospect of GHL expanding the number of units.

At present the council charges 90 percent of the market rate and the minimum age for tenants is 55. The occupancy rate is 98-99 percent, and the only reason it does not reach 100 is the time it takes to renovate after a tenant moves out. Tenants stay for an average of about 12 years.

Chief executive Judy Campbell added that the tenants were mainly elderly women.

One possible issue is whether the council is competing with private landlords. That was answered to an extent by comments that the units fill a niche market for people who would otherwise have difficulty finding affordable accommodation. Also, high housing demand is more directed at larger dwellings. The council houses are more like small motel units.

The subject looks like provoking an interesting debate when it does finally come before council.