Further to our previous article on this topic, this information is quoted with permission from the Facebook page of the Horowhenua District Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association. It speaks to some of the questions people have been asking in the past few days since the sale of Horowhenua’s community housing, and raises many more. I find it concerning there was only ONE councillor on a publicly excluded council panel evaluating pensioner housing proposals. Read the other concerns they raise.
A link to the fb page is at the end of the article. Any emphases in the article are mine.
NOTE: further updates on this issue, unless they warrant a further article, will be added as an update at the end of the article at this link.
“The sale must be halted and HUG will fight to the end to stop this sale from proceeding. Watch this space” Andrea Smyth, spokesperson
A Horowhenua group that presented a petition to district mayor Michael Feyen signed by 2300 in ten days by people objecting to the sale of their dedicated pensioner housing vows to fight on to prevent what they call the stripping out of a significant asset in a questionable land deal.
As well as 115 units spread throughout the district the pensioner housing portfolio also includes one point one hectare of land in Levin and is estimated to be worth in real terms at least $26 million.
The petition was organised by a group against the pensioner housing sale called Horowhenua United Group (HUG) which includes Horowhenua District Ratepayers and Residents Assoc Inc, the MuaUpoko Co-operative Society, Labour Party and NZ First.
Councillor Jo Mason who chairs council’s wellbeing committee, and was the only councillor on a publicly excluded council panel evaluating pensioner housing proposals, was invited to accept the petition too but her only response to HUG was a text that said, “Got your message-will call when I am free.” She never did call back.
HUG spokesperson Andrea Smythe said further action may include legal action to argue in favour of setting up a Trust, instead of selling, one of the options which seventy people who attended a community organised public meeting recently voted in favour of.
Details of the sale of the pensioner housing have been leaking like a sieve ever since land developer and Cr Wayne Bishop emerged from a publicly excluded council meeting on the sale last Tuesday to announce the pensioner housing asset had been sold.
Since then questions and speculations have been running rife including that a community housing provider will lease the land and the land has been sold separately. But the most damaging claim of all is that certain unnamed council officers and councillors have set up a company to buy the land.
Ms Smythe, “We have a right to know whether this is true and if it is true is it even legal? Can council officers and councillors set up a company arrangement to benefit financially and personally from the sale of a significant publicly owned asset?
“Can the title to an asset we have been told by chief executive David Clapperton all along will be bought by a stage one community housing provider be split up like this? If this is all true we are feeling greatly deceived by our own council especially if it eventuates that some council officers and councillors will be financially benefiting by millions of dollars from the sale.
“Especially when shareholders are very angry about the proposed sale and furthermore have been denied access to the details of the sale agreement partly by the very same council officers and councillors who are said to be involved in setting up a business structure to buy the land the pensioner housing is built on.
Also, if this is all true [and it’s bad enough if it is] does this therefore questionable sale still fall within the mandate of being considered a community housing provider in a legal and statutory sense if the community provider leases the land and doesn’t own it?”
“Community housing providers are eligible for tax and Government financial benefits but will the landowners, if they are a separate entity, also be eligible for Government discounts? Or will the new landowners charge leases based on indirectly financially benefiting from Government tax and other financial incentives provided by the Government to the community housing provider?
“All this does is raise further concerns about what kind of deal has been done and whether it is true the land will be leased to a community housing provider already publicly named as the Sisters of Compassion.
“We have grave concerns whether this sale agreement conforms with expected practice in the provision of community housing services. What would happen if the leases go up and then these increases are passed on to the tenants? How would that be fulfilling the community housing contract?
“And if it is true the Sisters of Compassion will be leasing the land to provide the community housing services how long will the terms of the lease be? Is this a thinly disguised attempt to landbank a valuable housing portfolio so the landowners can make a profit at a later date? Who is the person or company who are buying a significant amount of land locally if the land is being sold as a separate entity? Do the new owners include council representatives?
“Perhaps the plan is to landbank the asset until further down the legislative track when land developers may be able to register as community housing providers to secure financial benefits through tax and other Government incentives. There are far more questions than answers though surrounding this significant ratepayer and resident asset that houses our most vulnerable elderly residents which makes this sale untenable. And we want answers to these serious concerns,” she said.
If attempts at stopping the sale fails HUG would also like to know what plans council has for the money from the sale of the pensioner housing portfolio as, “I am sure the ratepayers and residents would like to know whether there is any profits from the sale and what will happen with the profits. Will the money be set aside in a separate account?” said Ms Smythe.
One of the criticisms leveled at council by internationally recognised financial organisation Standard and Poor’s in a recent credit rating report was the council did not have enough “cash assets” so HUG wants to know what will happen with cash assets from this sale?
“Will the cash assets from the fire sale of this valuable asset, that will never be able to be replaced, just be absorbed into council’s general income stream to disappear forever from public scrutiny? Will our rates decrease so the ratepayers and residents, the shareholders of this significant asset, see a real return too on their asset? Is council even proposing they do this? No, they are not, but the shareholders should get to financially benefit too if the sale does proceed. So, what will happen to any cash profits from the sale,” Ms Smythe said.
The group says the way decisions have been made on this important local matter contravenes at least council’s own draft significance and engagement policy and the spirit and intention of the Local Official Government and Meetings Act to behave with openess and transparency not to mention perceived claims of fraudulent behaviour in the event it is true council officers and councillors are involved in the land sale.
“We have seen this council hold secret meetings under the cloak of ‘commercial confidentiality’ far too frequently and with little cause which is why we don’t trust this sale process or even recognise council’s mandate to sell this significant taonga on our behalf,” said Ms Smythe
“The sale must be halted and HUG will fight to the end to stop this sale from proceeding. Watch this space,” she said.
HUG spokesperson Andrea Smythe
contact: media contact 027 2443211 for more information
Image: Horowhenua District Council mayor Michael Feyen accepts the petition from one of the organisers Christine Moriarty and petition supporters in council chambers.
For further information regarding HDC visit our Horowhenua page under ‘Local Govt Watch’ at the main menu.