Thin walls and ovens that burn: Marlborough senior housing tenants upset at mooted 35% weekly rent hike

Senior housing tenants in Marlborough at a meeting to discuss possible rent rises have taken the opportunity to air a few other concerns they’d like their council landlord to address.

A mobility scooter sits recharging outside during a rainy day at Marlborough's Harling Court. Source: Local Democracy Reporting

Unfortunately, no-one from the Marlborough District Council’s housing for seniors subcommittee took up the offer to attend, although one did say they would be keen to read what was said at the meeting when it was reported in the media.

So here are some of the things that tenants are putting up with: No hot water in the kitchen, paper-thin walls, a gap under the front door that leaves blow through, flooded car parks, ovens that burn dinners, and a shower that jumps between hot and cold.

Grey Power Marlborough and housing for senior subcommittee members Jenny Andrews and Mark Peters were invited to Thursday’s meeting, but said it was “too soon” as the subcommittee had yet to put a figure to this year’s likely rent rise.

But a report to council last month indicated that, to keep up with market rate, senior housing rents in Marlborough needed to go up by 35 per cent. This was $66 a week more for a one-bed unit, and $78 a week more for a two-bed unit. The council had a self-imposed rule that the rent it charged for senior housing needed to be within 80 per cent of the “market rate”.

Pensioners said a 35 per cent increase would be “impossible” to pay.

The figures in the report spurred senior housing tenant Sue Brien to hold a meeting at John’s Kitchen, in Blenheim, on Thursday last week.

About a third of the council’s senior housing tenants attended. A Local Democracy Reporter attended and found out the tenants felt a $10-a-week increase was “reasonable” as many of their flats weren’t up to scratch.

None of the tenants wanted their names published.

A woman from one of the council's two complexes in Renwick said she had to buy a $280 headset, so she could watch television without disturbing her neighbour, because the walls between the units were so thin.

“A poor lady in one of the other units ... is between two units and the man in one of them has a hearing problem. He can’t afford batteries for his hearing aid, so he turns the TV up to its maximum, and she can’t go to sleep,” she said.

“The council is meant to provide safe places for us. How can they justify a rent rise if our units are not up to that?”

Another attendee said her mother, who lived in a unit and was disabled, had a shower that jumped between hot and cold.

“It’s to the point that she actually dreads the thought of shower days because of what that looks like,” she said.

Another said leaves blew into her home through a gap under her front door, which had been “fixed” three times.

She also had to boil her kettle to clean her dishes, as “just about zero” hot water came through her kitchen taps. When she told the council, they changed her shower head.

One Harling Court resident said she resorted to calling police after struggling to report a flooded car park.

She made the decision after water at the centre of the car park got up 12 inches, threatening one of the resident’s flats.

Another Harling Court resident was met with a round of applause after saying her oven was due for a replacement.

“Everything burns on the bottom [of the oven]. It's just absolutely hopeless trying to cook a decent meal in our ovens.”

Brien asked her fellow tenants at the meeting what they thought an appropriate rent rise would be, given the issues some flats faced and that pensions jumped $10 a week in April.

She also pointed out that the council units – at $174 for a one-bed and $226 for a two bed – were already more expensive than Kāinga Ora’s new two-bedroom homes on Stephenson St in Blenheim, which came in at $109 a week.

Most tenants yelled out “$10 a week”.

Attendees agreed representatives from each senior housing complex would meet and write a letter to the subcommittee ahead of its July 1 meeting, when rent was due to be discussed. Any increase would kick in from October.

Councillor Jamie Arbuckle, who did attend, said he was disappointed in his colleagues.

“They will be saying that the decision hasn’t been made yet. The thing is you need to be vocal, because we know if you're not vocal, these things can slip through,” he said.

The council put up senior housing rents by about 30 per cent in 2018, saying at the time it was a “re-set”. The council had not raised rent for several years leading up to 2018, which made its portfolio “financially unsustainable”.

Following the move, the council agreed senior housing rents would be reviewed each year to keep increases low.