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by Chris Tobin

The Timaru District Council has moved to allay concerns that social housing units in the district are lying empty while some are desperate to get a home.

Social housing criteria was not being met by prospective tenants, or, in some cases, people were declining to take up housing offered to them, the council said.

A council social housing tenant who did not want to be named said where he was living in Timaru’s Clyde Carr Cres there were five flats which had been empty for two to three years and others around the city were also empty.

He knew of people who were trying to find a home.

Council communications manager Stephen Doran said its social housing was aimed primarily at seniors.

“Bear in mind that it’s not general social housing, it’s mainly aimed at the elderly and .. we need to be particularly mindful in ensuring they feel safe and secure in their tenancies.”

Among the council’s criteria were that that prospective tenants had to be receiving one of the following: national superannuation, war pension, widow’s benefit, 55-plus, invalid’s or sickness (long-term) benefit.

Applicants on limited income could be considered.

The council has 232 units, all of which are either bedsits or one-bedroom flats.

The social housing tenant said one Clyde Carr Cresc flat had been upgraded but was still empty a year later and he felt there was no reason for it to be empty.

Council property manager Matt Ambler said the property in question was one of its older ones, which offered some of the smallest accommodation units.

“These days, properties such as these are the ones for which we have the lowest demand,” Mr Ambler said.

The units were regularly offered to eligible residents but were often declined, as people decided to wait for something more suited to their needs to become available, he said.

“Most are wanting to be in units that are newer or better located in relation to township services.

“In most cases we don’t penalise people for refusing a property but it may mean that it will take longer to find them a suitable place.”

Salvation Army corps officer Jacob Howan said demand for social housing reached a very high level in Timaru 12 months ago and remained so.

“The thing we need is affordable one-to-two-bedroom units.”

He said people seeking assistance from the Salvation Army could be new arrivals in the district or people who had lived here all their lives.

The Salvation Army worked with other agencies to assist people in finding accommodation.

The council was asked by The Courier for the total number of empty units in Timaru and throughout the district but did not give a figure.

“Our housing stock isn’t one-size-fits-all and over time we have seen changing levels of demand of different types of property,” Mr Ambler said.

The council’s social housing was funded by the rental income and it was a balancing act to ensure properties were kept up to standard while still making the capital investment required to meet changing needs and keep the rent at an affordable level, he said.

“One example of this was the recent reconfiguring of some of the units at Pye Court, in Temuka, from bedsits to single-bedroom units, which has significantly improved their desirability for tenants.”