Labour leader Chris Hipkins concedes his Government 'could've done more' on unruly Kāinga Ora tenants

By Craig McCulloch for RNZ

Labour has conceded it could have done more to deal with disruptive state housing tenants while in government but says the current coalition is going too far.

Ministers on Monday issued a directive to Kāinga Ora, demanding it take a tougher line on tenancies, evicting the worst offenders and chasing down overdue rent.

The Greens were quick to dub it the "politics of punishment", but Labour MPs took a more careful approach.

Arriving at a caucus meeting on Tuesday morning, Labour leader Chris Hipkins said he had "some sympathy" for the government's actions.

"Anti-social tenants who are terrorising their neighbours, there should be further consequences to that," he said.

"We did make some changes, but I think it's probably an area where we could've done more."

Hipkins acknowledged "more action" was required, but said he preferred a focus on relocation rather than eviction.

"About 90 percent of the cases where relocation has happened, the problem actually goes away.

"So there are alternatives as well, but I also don't think the tenants should simply be left there where neighbours are being unfairly persecuted."

Hipkins, however, was critical of the government's lack of information about how many children could be affected by the crackdown.

"Understanding what the consequences of that different approach is is important, because you can mitigate some of those things."

Asked on Monday afternoon how many children lived in social housing where serious complaints had been made, Housing Minister Chris Bishop said he did not know.

On Tuesday morning, he said he had since asked his officials and was waiting on a response. Bishop told reporters families with children would be subject to the same rules and expectations as everyone else.

"Of course we thought of children and we took a range of advice... but our view is it's the right thing to do.

"If you don't want to be kicked out of a state house... don't cause mayhem in the streets, don't harass people, don't intimidate people."

Bishop disputed that evictions would necessarily increase under the new approach, saying the threat alone would improve people's behaviour.

However, he also told reporters that the three evictions in 2023 was "too few" given the more-than-300 serious complaints lodged with Kāinga Ora every month.

Labour's housing spokesperson Kieran McAnulty told reporters "something has to be done" about those complaints, but that it needed to be paired with more investment in social housing.

"Because, ultimately, if tenants are kicked out, where are they going to go? There needs to be another place for them to go to.

"If you don't commit to building social houses, there is no possible medium-to-long-term solution to this."

Asked by RNZ whether Kāinga Ora had struck the right balance under his party's watch, McAnulty said the agency had done so "on the whole" but there was room for improvement.

"We're taking a different approach than the Greens are on this issue. We're focusing on the [social housing] waiting list."

Labour's associate housing spokesperson Willie Jackson said he had seen first-hand the problem of disruptive tenants in South Auckland.

"Did we get the balance right before? I think we probably could have done a bit better," he said.

"But it's not an easy area. And I think you've got to stop threatening and bullying people who are struggling in life."