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Pensioners suffer housing squeeze

South Wairarapa’s council and community are looking to address ongoing concerns about how to best assist Wairarapa’s growing population of pensioners.

In the next 25 years, the number of Wairarapa residents aged over 65 is expected to increase by about 79 per cent, which means about a quarter of the population will be part of that demographic.

According to Stats NZ’s district health board data, Wairarapa had more than 11,000 residents aged 65 and over last year.

At a recent meeting of the Greytown Community Board, chairperson Louise Brown said the issue of what plans South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] has for the pensioner flats on West St has been raised with her a number of times.

“People say individuals are having to sell, and that property isn’t affordable on pension funds.

“We need to remember all of our Greytown residents.”

Specifically in question was Westhaven, a block of six units on West St in Greytown that currently has a waiting list of 15.

According to SWDC, one unit is currently under repair and therefore not operational, and there is currently no proposal to develop the housing further.

SWDC Mayor Martin Connelly said that while there is much council-owned land that could be better used, he didn’t believe the council is the right party to co-ordinate this particular issue.

“Carterton got rid of all their pensioner housing a long time ago,” Connelly said.

“Councils won’t get any support from the government if they run them.

“There is a big opportunity there. But we have to go about it in the right way.”

There are currently 32 social housing units in South Wairarapa, and the wait times differ for each town.

There are a handful of people who have been on the waiting list for years, with one applicant still waiting after nine years.

However, it was pointed out that some had turned down the specific units they were offered while also asking to remain on the list.

SWDC policy and governance general manager Amanda Bradley said that about 1 per cent of rates currently go towards subsidising pensioner housing.

Bradley also noted that the long waiting times faced by those on the list are due to the limited reasons for a unit becoming available and said further engagement with the community is needed.

“Social housing is something that’s been talked about for a long time,” she said.

“The long-term plan is a good opportunity to do deep consultation about pensioner housing.”

Age Concern Wairarapa manager Chris Clarke said although his organisation isn’t an accommodation service, he is aware of accommodation issues impacting older residents.

“Looking at a good number of elderly, it means that they have to dig more and more into their pension – or if there are personal savings, into those – just to live day to day,” Clarke said.

“We do have people approaching us who are really struggling to pay for their accommodation or to access good accommodation.”

Due to Wairarapa’s ageing population, Clarke said the issue of low vacancy numbers for social housing has an impact on a large percentage of people.

“For a lot, they really struggle with having to cover their costs, purchase food, and pay rent,” he said.

“It can be a situation where you’re living week by week.”

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Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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