Housing NZ meth testing botch: Government forks out $440k for evictees

The Government is paying out around $440,000 on Monday to compensate tenants who were wrongly evicted from Housing New Zealand homes after meth testing standards changed. 

Financial compensation is being given to 55 people evicted from their Housing New Zealand homes, who will each receive an average of $7735. So far only around 295 out of 800 eligible former Housing NZ tenants have been contacted. 

The Government on Friday changed regulations so that the compensation payments would not affect any benefit payments, and the first payments are being made on Monday. Others affected by the bungle have been urged to come forward. 

In September, Housing New Zealand apologised for wrongfully kicking out about 800 tenants from their state homes as a result of meth tests that were found to be pointless. It was discovered around $100 million had been wasted on the tests. 

Earlier this year, a report from then-Chief Science Advisor Sir Peter Gluckman found there was no evidence homes in which meth had been smoked were harmful to live in. It acknowledged the effects on tenants losing their belongings and getting poor credit ratings. 

The testing guidelines used by Housing NZ between July 2013 and May 2018 were found to have little merit. About half tested positive according to the guidelines at the time, which was 10 times lower than the new standard in place since May.

Housing NZ tenants were evicted after traces of meth were found in their homes so they could be decontaminated. The government agency said in May that in two years, 1338 state houses were decontaminated for meth.  

Most of the decontaminated state homes were in Auckland and Wellington. The cleaning of a house that tested positive could cost between $2000 and $50,000 or more. 

Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) said it welcomes the Government's compensation for wrongfully evicted tenants, but has also called on the Government to prioritise finding a home for the evictees who are still homeless. 

"The biggest damage done to the tenants was the loss of their home and personal belongings because of the faulty meth tests," said AAAP's Ricardo Menendez, referring to evictees who threw out their belongings because of fear of meth contamination.

"Cash compensation will go some way towards addressing the material hardship evicted tenants have been put into because of the evictions, but the money will not be able to be properly used unless they are re-housed.

"We are calling on the Government to build and repair enough state homes to make them available for the affected tenants. 

"For people who are homeless, the cash compensation will end up eaten away by the expenses that come from living without access to cooking facilities, bedrooms, or other basic amenities."

Each affected tenant has received a formal apology from Housing NZ, Housing Minister Phil Twyford told Newstalk ZB. The total cost could come to between $4m and $5m, which would come from Housing NZ's operating expenditure.  

"To throw someone out on the street and, in some cases, to make them homeless - that's a terrible breach of natural justice," he said, and AAAP agrees, saying the Government "has an opportunity to deliver justice to tenants whose lives were turned upside down".

National Housing spokesperson Judith Collins told Newshub in June that the former National government had no idea the meth-testing industry was bogus.

Mr Twyford said in addition to the first 55 payments, another 92 assistance claims had been approved and, after an offer was accepted, payments would be made instantly.

"Housing NZ is working with other government agencies to find those affected and contact has been made with 295 people so far." 

Mr Menendez believes it would make sense for the Government to provide permanent housing for the evicted tenants. He said it's already "spending thousands of dollars each week for each tenant that has to spend a week in emergency accommodation... money that's going to motels". 

"Without addressing one of the most important well-being factors, which is access to permanent housing, a cash compensation won't fix the damage that was done because of the faulty meth contamination regime." 

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson says the Government doesn't know exactly how many people were made homeless by the faulty meth testing.

However, she said advocacy groups have come forward to say many of those affected from the regime are now living on the streets or living out of their cars.