Pensioners promised ‘fair and reasonable’ rents before being asked to leave meeting – Stuff.co.nz

Five Marlborough pensioners attended their first housing for seniors subcommittee on Thursday hoping to find out where the council sat on rent rises this year.

CHLOE RANFORD/LDR

Five Marlborough pensioners attended their first housing for seniors subcommittee on Thursday hoping to find out where the council sat on rent rises this year.

The Marlborough District Council has promised pensioners living in its senior houses that this year’s rent rise will not take them “within a bull’s roar” of the average rent in Blenheim.

But seniors won’t know what their new rent bill will be until a letter arrives in the post, possibly next month, because the council will land on a final figure behind closed doors.

Seven tenants, representing most of the council’s senior housing complexes, attended their first housing for seniors subcommittee meeting on Thursday to hear about their rents.

The tenants were asked to leave when it came time for councillors to discuss their rent, which was not open to the public, but not without the council first reading them the latest rent data and promising their rent would be well below that.

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Figures put to the housing for seniors subcommittee last week showed the rent of an average one-bedroom flat in Blenheim was $280 a week, down $20 a week from March.

Rent for two-bedroom flats had jumped $5 a week, to $385.

The council had a self-imposed rule that the rent it charged for senior housing had to be within 80 per cent of the average rental price in Blenheim. Pensioners in council flats in Blenheim were paying $174 a week for a one-bedroom unit or $226 a week for a two-bed.

Council property and community facilities manager Jamie Lyall said the Tasman District Council charged its tenants between $200 and $212 a week for a one-bedroom unit.

Its neighbour, the Nelson City Council, sold its senior housing supply to Kāinga Ora last year. The units could now be designated to anyone on Nelson’s social housing register.

Pensioner Sue Brien is

BRYA INGRAM/STUFF

Pensioner Sue Brien is “disappointed” a letter sent to the housing for seniors subcommittee on behalf of senior housing tenants was read behind closed doors.

Subcommittee chairwoman Cynthia Brooks told pensioners that setting rents was “complicated”, with “so many variables”.

“We are always mindful of you, our tenants. Always. That’s what we’re here for, to look after you the best that we can.”

Subcommittee member Mark Peters said the council had never set tenant rents “anywhere near” the market average.

“It’s not going to be within a bull’s roar of what [the market rate] numbers were … I think you can take comfort from the fact that when we do discuss this, it’s going to be in terms of a) what our operating costs are, b) what it would cost to break even, and c) what’s fair and reasonable,” Peters said.

If the council’s senior housing portfolio fell into deficit and the shortfall was not covered by tenants, then it was picked up by Marlborough ratepayers, which subcommittee member Michael Fitzpatrick thought was “not acceptable”.

The portfolio became financially unsustainable leading up to 2018 after councillors failed to raise rents for several years.

Fitzpatrick said ratepayers paid $300,000 to cover the deficit.

The council put through an unusually large senior housing rent increase in 2018 to balance the portfolio’s books, but then skipped a rent rise the following year in a bid to let pensioners adjust, which put it behind financially again.

The decision made by the subcommittee on this year’s rent had been sent to the next planning, finance and community committee meeting on July 22 for approval. If successful, it would be sent to full council on August 5 for its final sign-off.

A council spokeswoman said tenants would be written to once the process was completed. Rents would change in October.

Rents were set behind closed doors so the council could carry out negotiations “without prejudice or disadvantage”.

Housing for seniors subcommittee chair Cynthia Brooks says the Marlborough District Council is always mindful of its tenants.

Scott Hammond/Stuff

Housing for seniors subcommittee chair Cynthia Brooks says the Marlborough District Council is always mindful of its tenants.

Councillor Jamie Arbuckle, who was not on the subcommittee, attended the meeting and was able to sit in on the rent review discussion despite it being public excluded.

Arbuckle said after the meeting he could not disclose what members had decided, but said he was “very pleased” with their discussions and “encouraged by the progress made”.

He wanted the sub-committee to look at adding a senior housing tenant to its ranks to improve its communications.

Pensioner Sue Brien, who had organised for representatives from each tenant complex to start meeting from last month, was not surprised rent would be set behind closed doors.

But Brien said she was “disappointed” councillors had decided to also discuss a letter tenants sent them in private.

“Holding things behind closed doors means we have no say or counter-say. I know they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do, but surely if they talked about the letter in the open part of the committee … we could have had a good discussion.”

Councillor Jamie Arbuckle says he is “very pleased” with the subcommittee’s decision, but cannot share what it is.

RICKY WILSON/STUFF

Councillor Jamie Arbuckle says he is “very pleased” with the subcommittee’s decision, but cannot share what it is.

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