Radich vote seals rent rise for elderly

An 11% hike in Dunedin community housing rents has been approved through the mayor’s casting vote.

The vote for the rental increase was tied 7-7 during city council annual plan deliberations yesterday and Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich broke the deadlock with his casting vote.

It will mean an increase of between $14 and $25 a week for tenants of the 940 units, where the priority is for people aged over 55 and in urgent need of housing.

The rise is intended to cover increased costs of the Dunedin City Council running the community housing portfolio, although the service is also subsidised by rates.

Most people who weighed in on the subject through annual plan consultation were opposed to the increase and many suggested a more moderate rise in line with inflation.

Jules Radich.
Jules Radich.
Mr Radich said tenants paid less than half of what people were charged in market rentals and it was important to work towards providing a sustainable service.

"It’s not an unfair rent we’re charging."

The council is grappling with a proposed rates rise of 17.5% and escalating debt amid cost pressures and a continuing need to invest in infrastructure.

Deliberations continue today.

Decisions made by the council yesterday included increasing funding for Tūhura Otago Museum and taking over ownership of Logan Park hockey artificial playing surfaces, which need to be upgraded.

Most submitters who expressed a view on such subjects had called for those moves.

The community housing issue was yesterday’s biggest decision.

The council was told the portfolio used to be run on a cost-neutral basis and more recently the policy was for 90% user pays.

However, it was running below 90% and meeting this level would have required a 26% rental rise for tenants.

Cr Steve Walker said the 11% rise would make life more difficult for vulnerable citizens and community feedback had been clear.

Cr Mandy Mayhem said it would be "a crippling blow to our most senior people in our city".

Cr David Benson-Pope said a 4.6% rise would be more palatable.

Deputy mayor Cherry Lucas said Dunedin community housing rents were low compared with those in other cities.

Crs Bill Acklin and Carmen Houlahan said it appeared a catch-up was required after years of no rent rises.

Cr Andrew Whiley said community housing should not be a bottomless pit for the council.

Cr Lee Vandervis was worried about ratepayers subsidising "those lucky few" — a phrase to which Cr Sophie Barker took exception.

Public submissions were emphatically in favour of increasing the levy to the museum and the council heeded the call.

A 4.3% increase worth about $213,500 was approved.

Crs Vandervis and Marie Laufiso voted against and Cr Lucas recused herself.

The council had $140,000 revenue from its Wall St mall property and this was used to offset the extra museum cost.

The vote for the council to take ownership of the hockey turfs was 13-1.

Cr Vandervis was against.

The vote on an 11% increase in community housing rents:

For (7): Mayor Jules Radich, Crs Cherry Lucas, Bill Acklin, Carmen Houlahan, Lee Vandervis, Brent Weatherall, Andrew Whiley.

Against (7): Crs Sophie Barker, David Benson-Pope, Christine Garey, Marie Laufiso, Mandy Mayhem, Jim O’Malley, Steve Walker.

Absent from vote: Cr Kevin Gilbert.

Passed 8-7 on mayor’s casting vote.