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Housing NZ staff moved from earthquake prone offices

MEDIA RELEASE

9 November 2012

Housing New Zealand staff moved from earthquake prone offices

Housing New Zealand has temporarily relocated a very small number of staff (mainly in tenancy manager roles) for safety reasons.

These relocations have been necessary as the offices previously occupied by these staff do not meet earthquake safety standards. Impacted staff are in Invercargill, Te Kuiti, Greymouth, Nelson, and Kaitaia.

‘We are expecting these staff relocations to have little or no impact on customers, who can continue to contact us anytime at our Customer Services Centre. Tenancy Managers are already mobile and spend around 70% of their time out of the office visiting tenants.

Where these offices also carried out needs assessment work, Housing New Zealand staff are conducting these assessments over the phone in the interim’, Angela Pearce, Acting General Manager Tenancy Services said.

During the next three months more permanent premises will be sourced for these staff. A range of options will be investigated including the possibility of sharing an office with other agencies. ‘Staff health and safety is of paramount importance and is our prime concern in taking this action. While in most cases we have no reason to believe there is any reason for immediate concern, we have acted quickly in the best interests of our staff working in these offices’.

‘Local stakeholders have also been informed and as we don’t own any of these buildings, we are informing and working with the building owners’.

‘A further 88 staff working in four other Housing New Zealand offices have also been advised that the office they occupy is undergoing further evaluation to establish the level of health and safety risk to staff. These offices are in Palmerston North, Hastings, Lower Hutt, and Porirua’.

Additional background for reporters The Building Act 2004 requires territorial local authorities to have policies on earthquakeprone buildings in their areas, and to work with large property owners on the approach, priorities, and timetable to be followed for any strengthening work. As a consequence, every large property owner (includes the owners of hospitals, schools, other government department buildings etc) is required by their local territorial authority to carry out these assessments.

The safety of staff is a high priority for the Corporation, and it has moved quickly on this matter.

For commercial buildings the Building Act 2004 criteria for assessing potentially earthquake prone buildings is different to residential buildings. The criteria for commercial buildings is single storey buildings and above.

Housing New Zealand has taken the same approach with tenants living in buildings that meet the definition of being 'potentially earthquake prone'. Where a tenanted building has been assessed by engineers as being at less than 20% of the current standards [New Build Standard], the tenants are being relocated to other state rental properties.

Once tenants have been moved to other safer state rental properties, the earthquake prone building is assessed to determine the best course of action. Many earthquake prone buildings will be strengthened and made available to priority applicants on our waiting list in urgent need of state housing. Housing New Zealand has identified 767 residential buildings that meet the definition of being ‘potentially earthquake prone’.

A residential building is ‘potentially earthquake prone’ if it is two or more storeys and three or more household units live there.

Housing New Zealand is continuing to make good progress with these building assessments with around 35% [of the 767 potentially earthquake prone buildings] having a final outcome as determined by engineers.

To date 170 of these buildings have been assessed by engineers as requiring no strengthening work at all, being at 67% or higher of New Build Standard.

To date it has also been necessary to issue 90 day notices [for safety reasons] to tenants in 100 buildings. We have a dedicated Tenant Liaison Team to work with these tenants oneon- one through the relocation process. Housing New Zealand rehouses these tenants in other state rental properties and also pays reasonable relocation and reconnection costs.

Actual numbers of Housing New Zealand staff affected by these office relocations:

• Invercargill (3 staff)
• Greymouth (1)
• Kaitaia (2)
• Te Kuiti (1)
• Nelson (6)

Total = 13 staff

*****

Housing New Zealand provides safe and affordable homes for people in greatest need. As New Zealand’s largest landlord, we own or lease about 69,000 properties, housing around 200,000 people.

The needs of the our applicants and tenants change constantly, this means we need to understand, plan for and deliver changes to our housing stock to match – it is a big challenge.

We are committed to meeting this challenge by investing in new, warm, dry, improved state housing, homes that are the right size for our applicants today and in the future. We are redeveloping some areas where our houses are highly concentrated. National and international research has confirmed that mixed communities can lead to an overall improvement in life chances for all, including more vulnerable members such as our customers.

Our vision for the future is that state houses are part of healthy, sustainable, mixed communities including state, social and privately owned properties. Where possible, we incorporate affordable housing into redevelopment projects.

To achieve this we partner with businesses and iwi organisations as well as other government agencies and local authorities.

ENDS

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