‘We’re a charity case’

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Queenstown’s housing trust is gearing up for another court battle to prove it’s a charity.

The trust, which provides houses for locals who’d otherwise struggle to live here, was deregistered as a charity in 2010 – then lost a subsequent appeal to the High Court.

A year ago, the trust reapplied but it’s been knocked back by the Charities Registration Board.

Because it’s not a registered charity, Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust chairman Stephen Brent says it potentially misses out on a large amount of community funding.

His trust now has a March hearing date set for an appeal to the High Court, after being unable to change the board’s mind.

“We’re the only housing trust in New Zealand that is not charitable – all of the others are registered, even though a lot of their activities are pretty similar to ours.”

Brent adds he’s disappointed local government MP Todd Barclay isn’t doing more to help.

Barclay says he sympathises but he can’t be seen influencing the charities registration board “short of me losing my job over this”.

He mentioned the trust’s issues with former Social Development Minister Paula Bennett when she visited Queenstown early in this parliamentary term.

Barclay: “If they strongly believe that the decision by the board is wrong, they should do what we encourage them to do, and that’s to take it to the High Court again.

The trust originally only offered a shared ownership model but now offers a range of other programmes including affordable rentals and rent-to-own.

Brent says: “We were arguing that we were helping a lot more people than we were originally helping.”

The registration board stated last year that “while some of the trust’s rental activities may enhance charitable purposes, the trust’s focus is on supporting families and individuals into home ownership”.

“the trust’s home ownership purpose is not charitable as it confers significant private benefits on individuals and is not directed towards people in poverty”.

But Brent says that in the Queenstown context, its clients fit that description.

“Our goal is to help the people that are the glue in this town – the teachers, the nurses, police people, all those people that you need for a community to survive and prosper.”

He maintains the trust’s a charity because there’s no profit motive – “anything we make is all ploughed back into the community”.

The trust this year won tax exemption status.

But Brent says it still suffers, as many community organisations only give donations or grants to registered charities.

Internal Affairs comms boss Steve Corbett says because the trust’s appealing the board’s decision, “we are unable to make any comment while the matter is before the High Court”.

scoop@scene.co.nz