ICC tenants take united stand

    Invercargill City Council housing unit tenants' association members (from left) Nehua Henare, Norman Agnew, Ken McNaught and Leisha Kennedy want to have a collective voice when discussing issues with the council.

    A GROUP of Invercargill City Council (ICC) flat tenants want to have a stronger, united and more effective voice.

    More than 20 tenants gathered on Monday to form a tenants’ association, following a decision by the council in March to raise the rent of its units by 35% during the next two years.

    The aim of the association was to give the tenants a collective voice when discussing issues with ICC relating to their rental properties, such as rent increases and maintenance issues.

    ICC housing tenant Ken McNaught said he wanted to ensure he and his neighbours could live a life with less stress.

    Most of the tenants in the council-owned flats were elderly people on limited incomes, so the increased rent would have a significant impact on them, he said.

    “I want to help make elderly people happy again.”

    He said it had been hard for tenants to learn to cope with the “enormous” rental increase.

    Mr McNaught remembered receiving a letter, three days before Christmas, advising the rent of his unit would skyrocket.

    The news affected his physical and mental health as his unit was “the only thing he had”.

    Unfortunately, they could not overturn or change the council’s decision, he said.

    But instead of regretting the past, he wanted to look to the future.

    “Having a tenants’ association will give us a stronger voice when dealing with the council, to get better outcomes for the residents in the future.”

    Mr McNaught said it would be advocating for better consultation in eventual issues.

    He also believed the association would help them to have direct and better communication with ICC.

    The rental hike for the 215 ICC units was to cover the cost of healthy home standards and to enable increased investment in housing stock which required improvement, including the installation of heat pumps in the units.

    Leisha Kennedy has been living in a council unit in Pomona St for about 10 years. She got her heat pump installed last week.

    Despite the initial struggle, she was pleased with the new addition to her flat.

    “Oh, it is really good I’m just a bit nervous about my power bill,” she said.

    The meeting earlier this week was chaired by Department of Internal Affairs community development adviser Garry Lay and Labour List MP Dr Liz Craig.

    Following the ICC decision, Dr Craig wrote to tenants asking them to “get in touch” if anyone needed assistance.

    “Among the group who got back to me, forming a tenants’ association to strengthen their voice with the council was seen as a priority so I have been happy to support them in that.”

    Southland Beneficiaries and Community Rights Centre manager Neville Corkery said staff had been working with tenants and the Ministry of Social Development to ensure they were receiving their full entitlements.

    “We should soon have a better sense of how many tenants will be able to receive an accommodation supplement and what the average payment will be.”

    Mr Lay said he would provide ongoing advice and support the best organisational and governance arrangements to achieve the group’s aims.