The Government will pay a higher rent for anti-social and troublesome tenants when it sells social houses to non-Government buyers.

Social Housing Minister Paul Bennett told POLITIK last night that rents will be set according to the tenant.

Thus potential buyers worried that they might end up with tenants who trashed their houses will be able to negotiate a premium rent.

Under the Social Housing proposals the Government will pay the rent and possibly guarantee that rent  for 52 weeks a year.

The rent will be covered by a contract with the social housing owner and will require that the owner – if necessary, along with other partners — wrap social services around the tenant.

On Monday the Prime Minister suggested that property owning entities might form consortiums with other organisations to be able to fulfil the terms of the contracts.

“We will pay different amounts for different people,” said Ms Bennett.

“Ultimately it is someone who is high risk then we may pay a bit more.

“If it is someone we want to give certainty for a long period of time then we might pay a little bit more.

“The contracts are going to be quite individualised and really from a tenant’s needs.”

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Ms Bennett also said the type of tenant may play a part in determining the price of the house when it is sold.

“This is why we keep saying this is not a normal house in normal circumstances,” she said.

“It is a house that comes with a tenant.”

She said that the contracts would have to try and take into account issues like potential damage that might occur with anti-social tenants — by which she probably means gang members and people with long criminal records.

Housing New Zealand has tentatively started down this path before in 1999 when Murray McCully was Minister and Brian Roche (these days at NZ Post) was the CEO of Housing New Zealand with the creation of Access Facilitators who tried to coordinate the whole range of social services that Housing New Zealand tenants needed.

At the same time tentative steps towards selling houses were taken in Masterton and Porirua.

But Labour ended that when it won power in 1999 and reverted to the Housing New Zealand -as -landlord model.

So it was not surprising when Labour came out yesterday all guns blazing over what they clearly regard as a betrayal of their state housing dream.

What provoked them was the introduction of legislation designed to allow the sale of the houses.

Labour’s Housing Spokesman, Phil Twyford claimed that  the Bill meant the Government was  about to give Ministers extraordinary powers to take direct personal control of selling state houses, exempting Ministers from normal legal requirements “and leaving the sale process wide open for corruption.”

Mr Twyford is referring to provisions in the legislation which will mean the Government does not require the approval of the Board of Housing New Zealand to sell houses.

But Ms Bennett says he has misunderstood the legislation which was introduced because there was some legal ambiguity about whether Ministers could instruct Housing New Zealand on how to sell the houses.

Housing New Zealand is an independent Crown Entity and was unclear whether Housing New Zealand’s legislation contained the powers to do what the Government wants to do with the social houses.

And she said the legislation would mandate that the sale had to conform with the social housing programme before the Government would have the ability to sell any houses.

Mr Twyford also claimed the Government would be exempted “from the Right of First Refusal provisions in the Public Works Act.”

He may be confused here.

The “right of first refusal” is a Treaty of Waitangi provision contained within specific settlements between iwi and the Crown.

And she said the legislation would clarify the current situation as far as the Public Works Act was concerned.

It is clear this is going to be a tough political battle for the Government if it is going to overcome a huge emotional nostalgia for the 1935 Labour Government’s state houses.

But what that nostalgia ignores is the impact of the deinstitutionalisation of psychiatric hospitals and long term care institutions programme on Housing New Zealand tenancies.

That’s why Ms Bennett wants to talk about tenants, not houses.