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Pensioner tenants in a Taranaki town say they are being priced out of their homes

Editor Written by Editor · 4 min read >


Residents of the units are concerned by a proposed rent increase put forward by the property owner, Stratford District Council. Photo / Ilona Hanne

A proposed rent increase of over $20 a week has residents of Stratford’s pensioner housing units worried they will be priced out of their homes.

Michael Coe, who lives in one of the 10 single-person units owned by Stratford District Council, says the proposed increase is “simply unaffordable”.

“If the rent was to go up a bit, then so be it. We understand that, as we haven’t had a rent increase in a long time. But the amount proposed will make it unaffordable for us.”

Michael says the proposed increase, taking weekly rent from between $140-45 to $161, has residents worried about their future.

“We haven’t had an increase in our superannuation, which is what we are living on. Also it’s looking like the Government is stopping the winter energy payment so we are losing that too probably. So a rent increase of over $20 a week is a lot of money for us.”

Michael Coe (far right) with some of the other residents of Stratford's Elsie Fraser units. All 10 residents are unhappy about a proposed rent increase and are asking councillors to reconsider. Photo / Ilona Hanne
Michael Coe (far right) with some of the other residents of Stratford’s Elsie Fraser units. All 10 residents are unhappy about a proposed rent increase and are asking councillors to reconsider. Photo / Ilona Hanne

He says tenants would like to see any rent increase linked to superannuation.

“If our super goes up, then the rent can go up. They should review the rent every year, and if there’s an increase to super then link it, but not a big jump like this.”

Some of the pensioner units are called the Elsie Fraser units, in recognition of a lifetime resident of Stratford by that name, who had left provision in her will for units to offer affordable housing for the elderly in the district. They are available to tenants over the age of 65 with a limited income.

Some of the units are the result of a bequest from Elsie Fraser, and are available for pensioners who are facing financial hardship. Photo / Ilona Hanne
Some of the units are the result of a bequest from Elsie Fraser, and are available for pensioners who are facing financial hardship. Photo / Ilona Hanne

What that means, says Michael, is “those of us living here don’t have a lot of savings to use for rent, every dollar matters”.

A large rent increase would mean the intent of Elsie Fraser’s bequest was lost, he says.

“Affordable housing would become unaffordable.”

He and his fellow residents are asking for support from the community, he says.

“We are asking that people understand the pressure this proposed increase puts on us, and for the community’s support in asking that Stratford District Council continues to support community housing through keeping the rent for these units affordable.”

A letter was sent to residents in June last year, he says, saying a rent increase would be coming.

“So that’s been a long time worrying, and not knowing exactly what that increase would be. It’s been stressful for residents. One has put off having dental work done because they don’t want to spend money they may need if the rent goes up, others have postponed medical appointments for the same reason.”

Michael, who himself is on dialysis, says the location of the units makes them ideal.

“We are near to everything here, the doctors, the shops. Most of the residents have a mobility scooter to get around with, so we can stay independent. If these units become unaffordable, the next step for some would be a rest home, and a loss of that independence.”

The 10 one-bedroom units on Page St in Stratford are fully occupied, with a waiting list. Photo / Ilona Hanne
The 10 one-bedroom units on Page St in Stratford are fully occupied, with a waiting list. Photo / Ilona Hanne

When Michael talks about the units and their importance to those who live in them, he’s not just talking about the current residents.

“My father lived in one of the units for 10 years. I was so pleased when I was able to get into one, because it makes such a difference.”

Before moving into his unit four months ago, Michael was renting a two-bedroom unit in Stratford for $360 a week, he says.

“I was going backwards in life. It was chewing into my savings paying that much.”

Having grown up in Stratford, Michael worked in Australia running his own cleaning business until he retired at 67.

“I knew I wanted to come back to Stratford. My family are here, I grew up here, and it’s a good town, everything you need is here, as long as the housing is affordable.”

All 10 residents sent letters raising their concerns ahead of February’s Policy and Services Council meeting, in which councillors were considering the housing for older persons policy, which contained the proposed rent increase. Several of the tenants, including Michael, attended the meeting, which Michael says is because they wanted councillors to see exactly who their decision would impact. Michael also spoke at the meeting, asking councillors to reconsider the policy.

Earlier this year, councillors chose to increase the rent for the units from the current rate of 40 per cent of market rate to 80 per cent, with the increase to be spread over several years. That was then written into the Housing for Older Persons Policy contained in a report brought to the February Policy and Services meeting for councillors to approve.

Speaking to councillors, Michael said the proposed increase was too high and asked councillors to consider reducing it. He and his fellow residents appreciated there was a cost to running the units, he said, but he felt the overheads listed were too high.

“We don’t see much maintenance, just lawn mowing. We would like a clarification of the costs for the units, and some of those overheads moved to other areas rather than the units.”

Mayor Neil Volzke said he understood the residents’ concerns.

“I think we need to do a little more work around this.”

Councillor Vaughan Jones disagreed.

“We have a robust process to calculate the rent. To me this policy is correct the way it is.”

Councillor Matt Watt agreed with Vaughan.

“I think staff have done the research. They’ve had a rental appraisal done, and it was higher. So we could do more research, and it could come back higher again.”

Councillor John Sandford said he understood the rent had been “too low, for too long, and it had to move”. The units were subsidised by the community, all of whom were hurting with the cost of living, he said.

“Especially pensioners.”

However, he said, “we don’t need to rush this decision,” indicating he would vote against adopting the policy as it stood.

When it came to the vote, deputy mayor Min McKay and councillors Jones and Watt voted in favour of adopting the policy, with the other eight councillors present voting against, meaning the rent stays at $140 to $145 per unit for now.

The decision leaves Michael and the other nine residents of the Elsie Fraser units hoping for a “more reasonable” rent increase, he says.

“I would like councillors and staff to come and meet with us. To listen to our thoughts. We aren’t opposed to a rent increase. Not just that much. Link it to superannuation, that would be fairer.”

Disclaimer: Editor Ilona Hanne is married to the CEO of Stratford District Council.

Ilona Hanne is a Taranaki-based journalist who covers breaking and community news from across the region. She has worked for NZME since 2011.



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