Part 2: About social housing

Using information to improve social housing services.

In this Part, we outline:

Housing New Zealand's role in providing social housing

Housing New Zealand provides social housing throughout New Zealand. As at 30 April 2017, Housing New Zealand managed about 63,000 state houses. Building, acquiring, and redeveloping new houses is a major part of Housing New Zealand's role. Housing New Zealand also disposes of houses that are unsuitable or surplus to demand in a particular area.

Housing New Zealand's role is to provide homes that are in good condition to people most in need. Housing New Zealand acts as a property manager and collects rent, helps people maintain their houses, and ensures that houses are maintained to a good standard.

People in social housing

About 180,000 people live in Housing New Zealand homes, many of which are located in areas of high social deprivation.2

Housing New Zealand's main tenants are diverse. In 2016/17, about 35% identified as Māori, 27% as Pacific peoples, and 36% as European. Housing New Zealand also provides houses to refugees.

Although about 27% of the New Zealand population is 55 years old and over, about 41% of Housing New Zealand's main tenants are in this age group.

Figure 2 shows how long tenants have been living in Housing New Zealand's houses.

Figure 2
Current length of stay of the main tenant in a Housing New Zealand house, 2017

Source: Based on Housing New Zealand Corporation's data.

The rent that most tenants pay is based on their level of income rather than what the market would charge. The Ministry pays the difference. This is called "income-related rent". In June 2017, 97.4% of Housing New Zealand's tenants were paying income-related rent, and the other 2.6% were paying full market rent.

Applying for social housing

Figure 3 summarises the process people go through when applying for social housing.

Figure 3
The process a person goes through to get a Housing New Zealand house

Demand for social housing

The number of people on the social housing register has increased from 3877 in June 2016 to 5844 (with an A and B priority – see paragraph 2.12) in September 2017, plus an additional 1483 on the transfer register.3 The high cost of rent and limited number of houses in some areas are the main factors contributing to the increased number of people waiting for a house.

People on a low income or with complex needs are likely to miss out on private rentals when landlords have other people to choose from. This also increases the demand for social housing.

Increase in numbers of people with high needs

People on the social housing register are given a "need score" out of 20 (20 being the highest need) and a priority category (A for high priority and B for lower priority). This is intended to ensure that people with the greatest need are housed as quickly as possible.

In some instances, people are placed at the top of the register for the next available suitable house, even if there are people with a higher rating than them. This is called fast track. The fast track policy currently applies to households at risk of rheumatic fever in some North Island district health board areas.

At the time of our audit, more than 90% of applicants being housed had a priority A rating. As at September 2017, there was a median time of 50 days to house people on the social housing register.

The number of people housed with complex needs is also increasing. These needs include:

  • limited life skills;
  • poor credit and/or private rental market history;
  • inability to manage the responsibilities of a tenancy;
  • financial issues;
  • mental and physical health problems;
  • social isolation;
  • drug and alcohol abuse;
  • anti-social behaviour; and
  • incidents of threatening behaviour.

Having the right houses available

Providing houses of the right size creates several challenges for Housing New Zealand.

The extent and location of housing demand has changed more quickly than the configuration of Housing New Zealand's portfolio of social housing. Throughout the country, many of Housing New Zealand's houses are located in areas of lower demand, and there is a significant under-supply of houses in other areas. Auckland, in particular, has high demand for social housing because of the high cost of rent and a shortage of private rental accommodation.

In 2016, 58% of people in social housing were not in a house well suited to them. This means that they were living in houses that were either overcrowded or too big (see Figure 4).4 There has been an increase in demand for houses for single people and single parents with children in particular and, to a lesser extent, for larger families. There has been a decrease in demand for houses for two parents with children.

This means that Housing New Zealand has, relative to the family composition of those in need of housing, too many three-bedroom houses and too few one-bedroom houses. Housing New Zealand has been aware of this mismatch for some years and is looking to address it through its asset management strategy.

Housing New Zealand also has a significant maintenance and investment challenge because of the large number of older houses it has. Housing New Zealand estimates that it will need to replace or renew 60% of its houses in the next 20 years.

Figure 4
A regional view of the under-use and overcrowding of Housing New Zealand houses, 2016

Source: Housing New Zealand Asset Management Strategy 2016-2026.

2: Areas of high social deprivation are associated with poorer outcomes for people, including financial hardship, lower educational achievement, overcrowding, and higher crime rates.

3: People on the transfer register are already in social housing but need to be moved to a more suitable house.

4: Housing New Zealand uses a measure of more than one bedroom difference between what a household needs and the number of bedrooms a property has.