‘Caring council’ wouldn’t put senior housing rent up 35 per cent, would it? – Stuff.co.nz

Pensioner Sue Brien has organised a meeting to discuss senior housing rents so fellow tenants know “they're not on their own”.

BRYA INGRAM/STUFF

Pensioner Sue Brien has organised a meeting to discuss senior housing rents so fellow tenants know “they’re not on their own”.

A couple of councillors charged with looking after senior housing in Marlborough have turned down an invitation to discuss possible rent increases with concerned tenants.

A meeting is being held at John’s Kitchen, in Blenheim, on Thursday after a Marlborough District Council report last month suggested senior housing rents needed to go up by 35 per cent to keep pace with “market rates”.

The Marlborough District Council has a self-imposed rule that the rent it charges for senior housing has to be within 80 per cent of the average rental price in Blenheim.

Meeting organiser Sue Brien said she had extended an invitation to two councillors on the senior housing subcommittee and Grey Power Marlborough, but they declined, saying it was “too soon”. Brien lived at one of the council’s 174 senior housing units.

Brya Ingram

Jenni Schreuder says the rent increases put forward in a council report last week would be “impossible” for many senior housing tenants to pay.

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Senior housing subcommittee member Mark Peters told Brien in an email, seen by a Local Democracy Reporter, that he would be “very happy” to attend a meeting with senior housing tenants once a rent increase had been proposed.

Until then, there was nothing to discuss, Peters later told the reporter. However, some seniors were worried that once a rent increase was proposed it could be too late, and wanted to be heard before a figure had been tabled.

“The figures that were published in the media were figures we can go up to, but that doesn’t mean that we will,” Peters said last week. “We are a caring council and will take all things into account when looking at our rent review later this year.”

The council put up senior housing rents by about 30 per cent in 2018, saying at the time it was a “re-set”. The council had not raised rent for several years leading up to 2018, which made its portfolio “financially unsustainable”.

A report handed to the housing for seniors subcommittee in March says senior housing rents will need to rise between $66 and $78 to align with 80 per cent of the market rent.

MDC/SUPPLIED

A report handed to the housing for seniors subcommittee in March says senior housing rents will need to rise between $66 and $78 to align with 80 per cent of the market rent.

Following the move, the council agreed senior housing rents would be reviewed each year to keep increases manageable.

But a report handed to the subcommittee in March outlined the weekly rent increases – $66 for a one-bed and $78 for a two-bed – needed to keep in line with market rates.

These increases equated to about a 35 per cent hike. Pensioners said the increase would be “impossible” to pay.

Brien, 70, said she couldn’t sit back and do nothing.

“Someone needs to stand up for us pensioners,” she said.

Brien said she had considered cancelling the meeting after Grey Power Marlborough and subcommittee members Mark Peters and Jenny Andrews turned down invitations to attend.

Councillor Mark Peters says the Marlborough District Council is caring and will take many factors into account when reviewing its senior housing rents.

RICKY WILSON/STUFF

Councillor Mark Peters says the Marlborough District Council is caring and will take many factors into account when reviewing its senior housing rents.

But she forged ahead after learning there was “big interest in the meeting” among tenants.

“There are a lot of concerned people … scared of what a rent rise will mean for them. They need to be able to voice their opinions.

“We want tenants living in council houses to know that they’re not on their own, that we care about each other.”

She planned to deliver flyers around the council’s senior units, inviting tenants to “air [their] opinions” at the meeting, with the outcome being a letter to the council.

Jenny Andrews said she didn’t see the point in attending the meeting at this time.

“I think it’s premature and better for them to wait until they have the facts.”

Vevian Place residents say increasing their rents to match 80 per cent of the market rate will leave them “penny-pitching”.

CHLOE RANFORD/LDR

Vevian Place residents say increasing their rents to match 80 per cent of the market rate will leave them “penny-pitching”.

Grey Power Marlborough president Gayle Chambers said members wouldn’t attend because the council hadn’t decided on this year’s rent increase.

But Niel Sowry, who was helping organise the meeting, thought seniors would be better off if they were heard before an increase was proposed.

“We think the council should know what people in senior housing units feel before they make a rent proposal. To put their rates up [to] 80 per cent of the current market rate, people just aren’t going to be able to afford that,” he said.

Sowry and his wife had already submitted to the council’s long-term plan requesting this year’s senior housing rent increase not be higher than the Government’s own superannuation increase, or this year’s inflation increase.

The NZ Super deductions policy allows the Ministry of Social Development to deduct the value of ‘tier 2’ overseas pensions recieved by superannuitants from their NZ Super payments.

“[Pensioners] are typically on very modest and generally fixed incomes. … To even consider increasing [their rent] beyond their ability to pay is frightening for them and irresponsible of the council,” they said in their submission.

The Sowrys said market rates were influenced by housing availability, supply chain constraints, and a national shortage of tradespeople, so were “quite meaningless and irrelevant” when setting rent for the council’s senior units.

The council’s housing for seniors subcommittee was due to discuss senior housing rents at a meeting on July 1. Any rent increase would take effect from October 13.

Do you have a council story we don’t know about? Then email reporter Chloe Ranford at chloe.ranford@stuff.co.nz

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