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Social housing: Tenants in state and community housing

Qualifying for social housing

Who do I apply to if I want to get on a waiting list for social housing?

Public and Community Housing Management Act 1992, s 100; Public and Community Housing Management (Appointment of Agency and Regulatory Authority) Order 2018

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) assesses whether people qualify for subsidised state or community housing – called “social” housing. MSD is the government department that deals with benefits and other forms of income support through Work and Income (which is part of MSD) and other MSD units. The MSD unit responsible for social housing is sometimes referred to as “Centralised Unit – Housing”.

To find out if you qualify for government-subsidised social housing, contact Work and Income on 0800 559 009 – or, if you’re 65 or older, contact MSD‘s Senior Services unit on 0800 552 002.

The first step will be an initial screening assessment, which may be done over the phone. Someone from MSD will ask you questions about your housing needs, your current living arrangements, your weekly income and so on. If they find you meet the qualifying criteria, you’ll next have a full needs assessment (usually face to face) to decide how high your housing need is and where you’ll be on the social housing waiting list.

Who qualifies for social housing?

Public and Community Housing Management Act 1992, s 102(2)(a); Ministerial Direction on Eligibility for Social Housing, 14 Apr 2014; Ministerial Direction on Continued Eligibility for Social Housing,
1 Jul 2014

To qualify for government-subsidised social housing from Kāinga Ora (Housing NZ) or a community housing provider, you must:

  • be at least 16 and be a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident, and New Zealand must be your usual home
  • have after-tax income under $655.41 a week if you have no partner and no dependent children or under $1008.33 a week if you have a partner and/or dependent children; and have less than $42,700 in cash savings or other property that could be converted into cash
  • have a high need for social housing – this will depend on who’s in your household, what your current place is like, your ability to find suitable housing in the private market, and other factors (housing needs are assessed under what’s called the “Social Allocation System” – SAS).

If you have a partner, their situation will be assessed as part of your application.

If you received a COVID-19 relief payment, that is counted as income when determining whether you qualify for subsidised housing.

If I’m turned down for social housing, how can I challenge the decision?

If the Ministry of Social Development decides you don’t qualify for social housing (for example, because they think your housing need isn’t high enough), and you disagree, you can ask for the decision to be reviewed by a Benefit Review Committee. See “Challenging Work and Income decisions: Reviews and appeals” in the chapter “Dealing with Work and Income”.

If I’m turned down for social housing, is there any other help I can get from MSD?

If you’re not approved for social housing, you may be entitled to a range of “housing support products” from MSD. Some of this support has to be repaid to MSD, but some doesn’t. You can apply for help to pay for things like bonds, letting fees and moving costs. You can also ask for financial help to leave a tenancy. (For more information see “Types of benefits” in the chapter “Dealing with Work and Income”.)

How long will I be on a waiting list for?

This will depend on how high your housing need is, how quickly a suitable place comes up, and the number of people on the waiting list with urgent needs.

If your situation changes while you’re on the waiting list (for example, a change in your income or in the number of people in your household) you should tell MSD, as this could affect whether you still qualify for social housing or your position on the waiting list.

What happens next if a place becomes available?

You’ll be contacted by Kāinga Ora (Housing New Zealand) or the community housing provider who owns the property. They’ll show you the property and, if you want to take it, they’ll draw up a tenancy agreement for you to sign. They’ll also let the Ministry of Social Development know that you’re taking the property. MSD will work out what your rent will be.

Although you’ll still need to deal with MSD about some issues, from this point on your landlord will be Kāinga Ora or the relevant community housing provider. You’ll deal with them for all the usual things that tenants deal with landlords for – such as paying rent and asking them to carry out any necessary repairs.

What if I refuse a place because, for example, it’s not a good location for me?

If you have a good reason for turning down a social housing property that’s been offered to you (for example, it’s too far away from your doctor), talk to the housing provider (Kāinga Ora or the relevant community housing provider). They may be able to find you a more suitable place. This can be difficult, however, because in many places the demand for social housing is far greater than the number of places available.

Housing waitlists and keeping a clear record to protect yourself

If you turn down a suitable property three times, and MSD thinks you don’t have a good reason, their policy is to take you off the waiting list. It’s a good idea to always keep good written records of your contact with Kāinga Ora (Housing NZ) or the community housing provider and of all issues to do with your tenancy, and this could be particularly helpful if they want to take you off the waiting list. Keep copies of any letters you write to them, and make written notes after each conversation with them. If anything gets damaged, take a photo and write down what caused the damage.

Can I have someone represent me when I deal with MSD?

Yes. You’ll need to get an “Appointment of Agent” form from MSD and complete it – this will authorise your agent to deal with social housing issues and also any other Work and Income issues if you’re on a benefit. If you’ve already appointed someone to deal with Work and Income as your agent, you’ll need to fill in another form, “Agent – Extension for MSH Housing Assessment”.

What if I have nowhere to stay and need emergency accommodation? 

If you need emergency accommodation, contact Work and Income on 0800 559 009 – or Senior Services on 0800 552 002 if you’re over 65. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) will also be able to work with you to find out what’s available in your area. (See “Where to go for more support” at the end of this chapter for how to contact a CAB.)  

Emergency accommodation is intended to last for seven days and is paid for by MSD through a special needs grant.  If you have to stay longer, you might need to pay some rent – usually 25 percent of your income. 

The actual housing is provided through a range of places, including churches, social service agencies, and motels. Kāinga Ora (Housing New Zealand) doesn’t provide emergency accommodation. 

Do I have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to get emergency accommodation?

No, emergency accommodation providers must not deny anyone of emergency housing because of vaccination status.

What if I’ve stayed at emergency accommodation but need somewhere to stay for longer?

Transitional Housing Operational Guidelines For Providers of Transitional Housing 2018

If you (and your whānau) need a bit longer to get on your feet, you can apply for what’s called “transitional housing”. This isn’t the same as emergency housing and is intended to last for about 12 weeks. You’ll have to pay some rent – usually 25 percent of your income.

The point of transitional housing is to get people ready for a permanent home. It’s provided by community organisations like a church or social service agency, who are responsible for making sure the place is warm and dry. Providers also help you find more permanent housing and support you with other social services, such as budgeting or health advice. 

You apply for transitional housing directly with the provider. To find a transitional housing provider in your area, go to www.familyservices.govt.nz and search “transitional housing”. Click “filter results” for your region. Your local Work and Income or Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) will also be able to work with you to find out what’s available in your area. (See “Where to go for more support” at the end of this chapter for how to contact a CAB.

Transitional housing providers often have their own criteria for eligibility. They may ask you to be on the MSD Housing Register and prove you have an “urgent need”. For example, the place you were renting was suddenly sold. If you do meet the provider’s requirements, they have to accept your referral unless they believe it would seriously affect the safety of their staff or clients.

It’s expected that you’ll be moved into more permanent housing by the end of your stay, but the provider should continue supporting you for another 12 weeks after you‘ve moved out. In certain situations, you might be able to stay longer than 12 weeks as long as your provider agrees. You should talk to your provider about this and keep written records of your discussions.

Transitional housing rules sometimes differ from the Act

Residential Tenancies Act, s 5(1)(y)

As a general rule, the Residential Tenancies Act doesn’t apply to emergency accommodation or transitional housing. This means that you’ll need to be aware of the “house rules” of the property you’re staying in because they could be different to the Act. Legally, providers can choose to have parts of the Act cover their property and if they do this, you have to agree to it in writing.


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Tenancy and housing

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal advice and can help you make an application to the Tenancy Tribunal.

Tenancy Services – Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)


MBIE‘s Tenancy Services section provides information to tenants and to landlords. It also provides dispute-resolution services.

Tenancy advice line

Phone: 0800 83 62 62 (0800 TENANCY). Free translation services are available.

Bond enquiries

Phone: 0800 737 666. Free translation services are available.

Information and forms

Tenancy Services provides information and various forms online or you can order forms by phoning 0800 83 62 62 (0800 TENANC)

Applying to the Tenancy Tribunal

You can apply online, or you can get a paper copy of the form from a Tenancy Services office. The application processes are explained at:

Tenants Protection Associations


Some cities have Tenants Protection Associations:

Christchurch – (03) 379 2297,

Auckland – (09) 360 1473

Renters United

www.rentersunited.org.nz (in Wellington only)

Renters United is an organisation for renters in Wellington. They focus on organising renters and campaigning to make renting better for everyone.

Manawatu Tenants Union

Manawatu Tenants Union provides advocacy and support for renters in the Manawatu region

Phone: 06 357 7435

Email: info@mtu.org.nz

Citizens Advice Bureau


Phone (0800 FOR CAB) 0800 367 222

Contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau for information about what local tenancy services are available to you.

Kāinga Ora (formerly Housing New Zealand)


Kāinga Ora, which manages the state housing stock in New Zealand, has a range of information on its website.

Phone: 0800 801 601

Ministry of Social Development


The Ministry of Social Development assesses eligibility for the social housing provided by Housing New Zealand and registered community housing providers. MSD also calculates income-related rent for social housing and conducts tenancy reviews.

MSD‘s social housing staff can be contacted through Work and Income offices:

Phone Work and Income on 0800 559 009 or, if you’re 65 or older, contact Senior Services on 0800 552 002.

Community Housing Regulatory Authority


Phone: (04) 896 5908

Email: CHRA@hud.govt.nz

The Authority approves and registers community housing providers and monitors registered providers. You can read the register of approved providers on the Authority’s website.

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