19 Jul 2019

Govt spends record amount on emergency housing

From Checkpoint, 5:46 pm on 19 July 2019

Government spending on emergency housing at hostels and motels has reached its highest levels.

The Parnell City Lodge has become an emergency housing provider.

The Parnell City Lodge has become an emergency housing provider. Photo: Photo / Katie Todd

Latest Ministry of Social Development figures between April and June reveal there were 23,574 emergency housing special needs grants - just a year earlier, that figure was 9245.

The value also increased dramatically - from $10.4 million to $34.3m - a 229 percent increase.

It is the most the government has ever spent on emergency housing grants, which were implemented in July 2016 allowing people to stay in temporary accommodation. In most cases they do not have to be paid back.

Hastings Heretaunga Women's centre service manager Margot Wilson said Hawke's Bay was one of many regions struggling with a lack of affordable or public housing.

She said motels were filling up across the region, with people desperate for somewhere to live.

"We see it on a regular basis - every Friday for us is a bit of a nightmare because we have a number of women who will come in and they just haven't got anywhere to go, often they'll have children with them and they're looking at the prospect of sleeping in the car at the weekend."

She said despite everyone's best efforts, there just were few affordable housing options.

Ms Wilson said those staying in motels were at the whim of moteliers and many were kicked out when there were large events in the region.

"When there are large social events that happen in Hawke's Bay … that accommodation is technically out of the loop.

"Then there isn't anywhere for them to go at all," she said.

The problem isn't limited to one region but Auckland Action Against Poverty spokesman Ricardo Mernendez March said things were particularly bad in our biggest city.

"Many people are simply falling behind. . . resorting to either having to apply for hardship grants in order to meet the cost of rent or being pushed out of their homes because the cost of private rentals are not affordable."

The average value of grants being given to hostels and motels in Auckland rose from $1182 in September 2017 to $1568 in March this year - an increase of about 25 percent.

Mr Mernendez March said moteliers were price gouging and profiting as people struggled in poverty.

Salvation Army spokesman Major Campbell Roberts said the emergency housing problem was going from bad to worse.

He said he was not convinced there were any government policies in place to boost social housing or solve widespread problems with the rental market.

"There is some supply coming on but it's not nearly enough for the need that's emerging here."

Ministry for Social spokesperson Kay Read said the large rise in emergency housing grants reflected a shortage of affordable housing, and the government's commitment to making sure people had somewhere warm and dry to stay, rather than outside or in their cars.

She said the supply of affordable accommodation was tight across the country and payments to moteliers were driven by supply and demand.

A statement from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development said the government had invested significantly to address the affordable housing shortage - with an extra 6400 public housing places to be delivered by June 2022.

It said this year's Budget provided $283m to fund over 2800 Transitional Housing places, with another $197m to expand the Housing First initiative.