7 Aug 2020

Public housing waitlist up 50 percent on same time last year

From Checkpoint, 5:24 pm on 7 August 2020

Nearly 10,000 New Zealanders have had to live in motels over the past three months, with the public housing waitlist up 50 percent on the same time last year.

State houses in Northcote

The waitlist for public housing is up 50 percent on the same time last year. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

That's more than triple the waitlist number shortly after the coalition government came to power - there were 6182 applicants in December 2017.

Every region across the country has seen demand rise - but it has been worst for the East Coast where there's been an 89 percent jump in the waitlist over the past 12 months.

Te Whare Tū Whānau, Gisborne Women's Refuge emergency housing manager Robyn Smith said there was nothing in the area for people wanting affordable housing.

The refuge runs its own emergency housing units, but Smith said high rents meant there was nowhere for them to go afterwards.

One family of two adults and four children living in a one bedroom unit had been feeling the strain acutely.

"Between the couple - just arguing, mental health and well-being, and the children, just not being able to just live life, experience what's out there."

The figures also show the government is placing fewer people in public housing - and it is taking longer to do so.

The number of applicants housed was down 36 percent to 1115 in the three months to June - the average time it took to house them was 237 days, 20 days longer than last quarter.

There are 9614 people who have had emergency housing grants to stay in motels while they wait for that housing - worth $79.3 million - up from $54.1m in the three months to March.

Salvation Army analyst and lawyer Ronji Tanielu said the latest figures are not surprising - and he is expecting things to get worse before they get better.

"We appreciate what government did in terms of trying to get people housed in Level 4 and Level 3, but the challenge now is to get long term sustainable housing for these whānau outside of the hotels.

"It's a strategy that works for a little bit and has a bunch of holes in it but we really need whānau in long term, sustainable, warm, affordable housing."

He said the government had made some big promises around public housing - but could do a lot better.

"No one has really figured out this housing question, so the answer is pretty straight forward - we need more houses - and so KiwiBuild was a little bit of a disaster, there's been a bunch of promises, so we, as an organisation, are just going to sit and wait and see what happens with this election and the promises that come out of it.

"But it's not just about promises, we need action."

The Minister in charge of Public Housing Kris Faafoi said the government was building more public housing - but motels would be needed for some time yet.

"It's obviously not ideal for people to be in emergency housing or transitional housing - but certainly pre and post Covid making sure people have got a roof over their head is what we've tried to make sure is there for them.

"We've committed to 8000 additional homes over the next four or five years so it will take some time to get some people into that, but I think the priority for the government is a motel is better than living in the back of a car."

And he rejected any notion that his government had failed people in need of affordable accommodation while in power.

"I would push back on that furiously, because I think what we're seeing is people coming forward and saying they do need help.

"If you look at the last three years the waiting list obviously has grown, but we're also making sure that we're increasing supply."

Faafoi said people were now joining the waiting list because they felt they would eventually get a property - which was markedly different to three years ago.