AN Invercargill pensioner is “on the edge” after learning rent for his council unit could skyrocket by 35%.
Along with other tenants of the Invercargill City Council’s (ICC) housing units, 74-year-old Ken McNaught said he would be in dire straits if a proposed rent hike went ahead.
The council was consulting on a proposal to increase the rent on its 215 units used to house elderly people on limited incomes.
In a letter sent to residents, council infrastructure group manager Erin Moogan wrote: “The proposed increase is required to allow council to make improvements as per the recent Healthy Homes Standards and also provide for future upgrades.”
If agreed, changes would take effect from July 1.
Residents could apply for an accommodation supplement through Work and Income New Zealand (Winz); an application form was attached to the letter. The letter states the previous increase was in July 2019.
Mr McNaught described the proposed increase as “ludicrous”.
“They sent a letter for a start and then, they rang. I said [to council staff] that was insulting.
“I went crook… We haven’t got the money is the big thing and that is not what these flats are made for.”
He said his pension was $833 a fortnight.
He paid $108 a week for rent and after bills, insurance and medications were paid for, only $20 or $30 remained.
The proposed increase meant he would pay $292 fortnightly for his one-bedroom flat, which he had rented for five years.
The news had affected his mental and physical health.
“It was the hardest year of my life, last year. I was locked in this room for three months. It is everything I have now.”
Another resident, Michael Reid, who had been living there for one year, said the matter caused him great stress.
“I’m on a pension, which is OK. But I need to always keep a close look to my financials to not have any kind of debt.
“With this increase, I will need to cut down basic things. I’m not gonna be able to have my steak once a week. You know what I mean? A little bit of luxury here and there.”
He also said he would have to sell his car, which he needed for hospital visits.
“A 35% increase is a lot of money.”
ICC infrastructure group manager Erin Moogan said if the proposed rent increase for council units went ahead, rates would still be about $100 cheaper than the market.
The proposal would cover improvements to ICC’s community housing portfolio, upgrading existing units to meet Healthy Homes Standards, she said.
It would also provide for future upgrades, as well as the provision of new units in the future.
“We are aiming to have heat pumps installed in all units in the 2021-22 financial year.
“Our staff will provide one-on-one training with tenants on how to use their heat pump, and they will be maintained for the tenants.”
She stressed the community housing portfolio was not funded by rates and it was a self-funding service.
“Feedback from general ratepayers is that they do not want their rates to contribute to the service.
“This means that in order to meet council’s goals of providing quality, affordable community housing with a sound, future-proofed maintenance plan, an increase in rent is required.”
Ms Moogan said the proposed increase would vary depending on the unit, but highlighted most ICC tenants were eligible for the accommodation supplement through Winz.
“This has been considered as part of the proposed increase. The accommodation supplement will assist tenants to pay for the increase.”