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Rental prices for community homes increase by 11%

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

The votes in favor of the rent increase were 7-7 during deliberations on the city council’s annual plan yesterday and Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich broke the deadlock with his casting vote.

It means an increase of between $14 and $25 per week for tenants of the 940 units, with priority being given to people over 55 in urgent need of housing.

The increase is intended to cover the increased costs of Dunedin City Council managing the community housing portfolio, although the service is also subsidized by rates.

Most people who spoke out on this issue through the annual plan consultation were against the increase, with many proposing a more moderate increase in line with inflation.

Mr Radich said tenants were paying less than half of what people were paying in market rent and it was important to work to provide a sustainable service.

“It’s not unfair rent that we’re charging.”

The council is grappling with a proposed 17.5% interest rate hike and escalating debt amid cost pressures and a continued need to invest in infrastructure.

Deliberations continue today.

Decisions made by the council yesterday included increasing funding for the Tūhura Otago Museum and taking ownership of Logan Park’s artificial hockey playing surfaces, which are in need of upgrades.

Most of the petitioners who expressed their views on such issues had called for these steps.

The issue of community housing was yesterday’s biggest decision.

The council was told that the portfolio was previously managed on a cost-neutral basis and recently the policy was that the user pays 90%.

However, this was below 90% and to reach this level a 26% rent increase for tenants would have been required.

Cr Steve Walker said the 11% increase would make life harder for vulnerable citizens and the feedback from the community was 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% increase would be more palatable.

Deputy Mayor Cherry Lucas said community housing rents in Dunedin were low compared to other cities.

Crs Bill Acklin and Carmen Houlahan said it appeared there was a need to catch up after years of no rent increases.

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

Cr. Lee Vandervis raised concerns about taxpayers subsidizing “the lucky few” – a statement that Cr. Sophie Barker objected.

Public submissions were strongly in favor of increasing the levy on the museum and the council responded to the call.

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

Cr. Vandervis and Marie Laufiso voted against and Cr. Lucas has withdrawn.

The council had $140,000 in income from the Wall St shopping centre, and this was used to offset the additional museum costs.

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

Cr Vandervis opposed.

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 after the mayor’s casting vote.

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