Housing Minister Chris Bishop says Government cracking down on 'unacceptable' number of vacant Kāinga Ora homes

Housing Minister Chris Bishop wants to crack down on vacant Kāinga Ora homes, including Te Mātāwai apartments in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland (right).
Housing Minister Chris Bishop wants to crack down on vacant Kāinga Ora homes, including Te Mātāwai apartments in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland (right). Photo credit: Newshub.

Housing Minister Chris Bishop says there's an "unacceptable number" of new vacant Kāinga Ora homes around the country. 

There are about 3900 unoccupied public homes, or 5 percent, he said in a statement on Thursday. 

"It's simply not OK that 786, almost 20 per cent, of the new public homes delivered by Kāinga Ora - Homes & Communities between June 2022 and October 2023 were vacant as of October 31, 2023." 

Almost 300 new homes were empty for four months or more, he added.

The minister has since laid out his expectations in a letter to the board of Kāinga Ora, requesting "social homes are not to be left empty for a day longer than absolutely necessary". 

“While I understand there may be instances where, for valid reasons, it takes time to fill a new home, the timeframes identified in this response are well beyond what I consider appropriate," Bishop said. 

Chief executive of Kāinga Ora, Andrew McKenzie, told Newshub the agency shares the minister's wish for new public housing to be tenanted as soon as possible. 

"We are working on ways we can reduce the timeframes that newly built homes are vacant," McKenzie said. 

He said Kāinga Ora staff are proud of how many new homes they have delivered. 

"And we want people living in them because we know the difference a stable home can make." 

The Kāinga Ora Board is working on a formal response to the Minister's letter, he added. 

When homes become available, staff carefully match them to the right customer, which can take time, McKenzie said. 

"This process typically includes a detailed pre-housing conversation to ascertain what their needs are, reviewing available properties, liaising with support service providers and other agencies if required, and having prospective customers view the property." 

Some homes can't be filled until they get council compliance or get connected to mains power and water, he said. 

Former Prime Minister Sir Bill English is leading an independent review into Kāinga Ora, whose findings will be sent to the Government in late March. 

Newshub has contacted Labour for comment.

How many vacant homes are there? 

There are about 65,500 public homes currently, according to McKenzie. 

Of those, 1445 are vacant due to being in-between tenancies and 361 are vacant due to repairs or assessments - a 2.7 percent vacancy rate. 

In Pōneke/Wellington it's 12.2 percent. That's mainly due to the city's older housing, such as the under-repair Dixon St Flats. 

Mckenzie added: "2,461 sites and homes were in our retrofit, demolition, sale or end of lease processes." 

The biggest public housing development in Aotearoa, the 15-storey Te Mātāwai building in central Auckland, has 200 public apartments. Former Prime Minister Chris Hipkins opened the building in August last year. 

It's yet to be fully tenanted, according to McKenzie, because tenants move into bigger developments in phases to prevent disruptions. 

"Staged placement also supports the building of neighbour relationships and a sense of community in multi-storey complexes," he told Newshub. 

There are about 25,000 people waiting for a Kāinga Ora public home, according to the most-recent data.