29 Oct 2021

More children living in motels as housing crisis unrelenting

From Checkpoint, 5:21 pm on 29 October 2021

The government is running out of motels to place families in as the housing crisis reaches record levels, with children among those hardest hit.

There are now 4512 children living in motels - an increase of nearly 280 children over the past three months.

A child on a bike at an emergency accommodation motel.

A child on a bike at an emergency accommodation motel. Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

The situation has reached a tipping point in some areas, with whānau being turned away from emergency accommodation at several towns across the country. 

At 155 Whare Awhina and Community Law in Whangārei, chief executive Liz Cassidy-Nelson said she is aware of 25 individuals and families who had asked the Ministry for Social Development for emergency accommodation, but none was available.

"Work and Income, sadly, are at capacity so the motels that they're working with either have no rooms available, or they just don't have accommodation available that is suitable for families, so families are being turned away.

"And they're being told, look at this point we can only give you support, there's absolutely nothing available."

Cassidy-Nelson said some families had been given 90 day notices to leave their rental accommodation during lockdowns, which made finding somewhere new incredibly difficult - especially when housing stock was already so low.

She suspected families who were unable to access motels and emergency accommodation were living with family or friends, often in crowded situations, or in their cars. 

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni confirmed more people needed emergency housing during the Delta outbreak, with the biggest increases in Auckland and Waikato.

She said Covid restrictions had made it harder for people to move in with whānau or friends while looking for a new place, others were unable to return home because of alert levels, and family breakdowns meant people leaving unsafe situations needed emergency accommodation.

While most centres had capacity, she said some couldn't keep up with demand - including isolated communities on the East Coast, Bay of Plenty and Northland - particularly Whangārei.

Minister Sepuloni said MSD and the Ministry for Housing and Urban Development were helping people to live with whānau or move to nearby emergency accommodation while suitable homes were found.

The public housing waitlist grew 32 percent in the year to June. There were 24,474 applicants in the queue.

As Aoteaora prepares to loosen its borders, Liz Cassidy Nelson said anyone with houses at their disposal should consider helping families in need.

"It is without a doubt an ethical issue where we have homeowners that own more than one home which are sitting vacant, in a time where we have a housing crisis that is going nowhere."

The government spent $87.7 million dollars on emergency accommodation on 36,330 grants over the past three months.

The value of hardship payments provided for the last six September quarters. The orange line is the value of Emergency Housing grants.

The value of hardship payments provided for the last six September quarters. The orange line is the value of Emergency Housing grants. Photo: Supplied / MSD

That was a $4.7 million increase on the same time last year, despite there being 8250 fewer grants.

And while grants are down, the number of children in motels is well up.

MSD figures released to Checkpoint show in September last year there were 4011 children living in motels - last month and that number climbed to 4512.

Between June and September this year the number of children living in Auckland motels grew from 1305 to 1422 - in Whangārei the number jumped from 39 to 93.

The Assistant Māori Children's Commissioner Glenis Philip-Barbara (Ngāti Uepōhatu, Ngāti Porou) said the situation was devastating, and urgent action was needed.

"It's a bleak, bleak, bleak existence in the context of a global pandemic - with delta roaring around in our communities - it's an awful situation.

She said children had shared the challenges they face living in motels, including having nowhere to put their things, no space for homecooked meals, nowhere to put their drawings from school.

"If we can't provide these whanau a home, we are messing up the future for this next generation."

There are only nine of Aotearoa's 66 districts where children were not living in motels - Clutha, Hurunui, Kaipara, Kaikōura, Queenstown-Lakes, Selwyn, South Wairarapa, Selwyn and Waimate.

While Flexible Funding is available for families living in motels throughout the country to help with additional costs, that money is not being allocated in Northland as MSD said there was not a sufficiently resourced provider in the region to administer the contract.