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Retired Tuapeka Mouth mechanic Ray Denston (81) and wife Carolyn expressed dismay yesterday when they learnt the rent on their double unit, at Toshvale Court in Balclutha, could rise by 11% or more, following a review later this year.
Mr Denston said although the weekly increase (by $12 to $125) might not seem much to most households, for pensioners and others on low incomes it could make a significant difference.
"When you take power and other bills into account, $600 a year extra to find for rent would be a big hit. You'd have to go without those little pleasures that brighten life and keep you out and about, like a shared cup of coffee or a pensioner's meal in town. That's about $12."
Mr Denston said he could accept a bigger increase if the units were better maintained by the council.
"There are regular water leaks, the windows are draughty, the carpet's threadbare and it's all just a bit tired. The rent's near doubled from the $66 we paid when we arrived in 2008; where's all the money going? Because it's certainly not here."
At its meeting in Balclutha on Thursday, the council voted for an interim inflationary increase of 3% only, in anticipation of a wider review of its community housing now under way.
However, a report from group manager service delivery Jules Witt gave councillors the option of increasing rents in its 98 units by between 5% and 14% next year.
This would bring them more closely in line with market rates, and help offset annual deficits - $72,124 for 2017-18, and a projected $121,000 for 2018-19 - by raising an additional $55,640 a year.
Councillors expressed concern increases now could be repeated following the review's recommendations.
"I think we should be looking at doing our normal annual increase. If we sit back and wait for the review, it could end up being a shock, 15% or 20%, we just don't know. Small increments keep us moving forward and allow for maintenance in the meantime," Cr Alison Ludemann said.
Cr Rachel Jenkinson said any increase should be evidence-based.
"I feel an increase is necessary, as we're making losses. They're currently well under market rentals. But we should defer a decision until we have fuller information."
Chief executive Steve Hill said the review would be completed by December.