Protecting public health, tenancy management practice, and a new approach

5 June 2018

Since the announcement of the Chief Scientist’s report into New Zealand’s methamphetamine testing and decontamination approach Housing New Zealand has received significant media coverage.

The vast majority of Housing New Zealand’s tenancies are unaffected by methamphetamine and Housing New Zealand’s property base represents approximately 4 percent of all residential housing in New Zealand.

We are now in the process of developing a comprehensive report to the Minister of Housing on our methamphetamine testing and decontamination policies and practices.

In advance of completing that report I want to clarify the following matters.

Protecting public health

The issue of whether HNZ should have followed the former Ministry of Health Guidelines and then the NZ Standard is plain. HNZ followed the only official public health advice available to all landlords in New Zealand at the time.

The private and community housing sectors, the local government sector and the insurance industry recognised the same advice.

The counterfactual would have been that Housing New Zealand did not follow public health advice.

I want to directly address a matter which has now been reported widely concerning Housing New Zealand having received repeated warnings from the Ministry of Health that it was misusing its Guidelines.

Housing New Zealand has never received formal advice or warnings from the Ministry of Health that it was misusing its Guidelines.

The Ministry of Health itself acknowledged that in response to media enquiries it received in October 2016. In the last week the Ministry of Health has reissued its 2016 statement to reporters.

Housing New Zealand is continuing to follow public health advice and has adopted the findings and recommendations of the Chief Scientist’s report.

Tenancy management practice

The matter of HNZ’s tenancy management practices associated with methamphetamine contamination is a separate issue.

The former Ministry of Health guidelines and the New Zealand Standard specified unsafe methamphetamine contamination levels in residences.

Neither determined how Housing New Zealand should manage methamphetamine contaminated tenancies.

For several years Housing New Zealand operated a policy of ending tenancies associated with methamphetamine contamination and in some cases applied a 12 month suspension to a household from holding a tenancy with Housing New Zealand.

The ending of tenancies and the application of a suspension was, at policy level, linked to the consequences of a household having breached their tenancy agreement with Housing New Zealand and causing costly damage and repairs to their home. At the time a zero tolerance approach was adopted.

A new approach

In late 2017 Housing New Zealand signalled we were updating a number of our operational policies. The starting point for work on those policies is the principle that housing is a cornerstone to stability. Our drug policy is one of those policies and we have been working through a consultative process with external experts. That policy will be finalised shortly.

Overall our focus is on keeping people in homes with very limited circumstances in which we would consider ending a tenancy. Housing New Zealand has stopped ending tenancies for methamphetamine contamination and not initiated any new action since November 2017 or ended a tenancy since January 2018.

Over that same period, where methamphetamine contamination levels have required a household to move for decontamination work to be undertaken, that household has been offered another home. In a small number of cases we have rehoused households several times.

I can also confirm that any household previously suspended for methamphetamine contamination will have that suspension withdrawn - that process is underway - and that Housing New Zealand will not be collecting any outstanding debt relating to methamphetamine damage and remediation. We are progressively working through remaining Tenancy Tribunal cases.

We are transitioning our policies and operational practices in recognition of the fact that a focus on housing those in highest need requires us to have a more empathetic response as a landlord.

That requires us to change. But we cannot do this alone. It is going to require a compassionate community response and the wide-ranging support of the health and social sector.

We know that where we provide a home we are offering a foundation for healing, growth and dignity.

Andrew McKenzie

Chief Executive, Housing New Zealand

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