17 May 2021

Te Puea Marae whānau push for benefits boost in Budget 2021

7:58 pm on 17 May 2021

Whānau in transitional housing at Auckland's Te Puea Marae say the government needs to build more affordable homes faster.

Temporary housing for families set up at Te Puea Marae, 12 July 2017.

Out the back of Te Puea Marae, behind the wharekai, are five portable cabins. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The marae was thrown into the spotlight five years ago as it opened its doors to help dozens of homeless whānau.

It is still helping vulnerable families, as a transitional housing provider, giving them a place to live and wraparound support as they wait for a permanent home.

Out the back of Te Puea Marae, behind the wharekai, are five portable cabins. The cabins are basic - a couple of beds, a kitchenette, and a small bathroom. There is a shared kitchen and whānau room as well.

"They're pretty basic but they actually served a purpose. So a mum and her 17-year-old daughter are moving in this afternoon," said Kaiawhina Whitiao Paul.

She said most of the whānau who arrived at the marae had come from emergency housing in motels, but as the housing crisis continued to bite, things did not seem to be getting easier - and a report last week showed more than a third of children were living in unaffordable housing.

The food shop at Te Puea Marae

The food shop at Te Puea Marae. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Before they arrived at Te Puea, Ngakorowai and her six kids spent about a month in a motel.

"It wasn't that great but we had beds, shower and a TV. The dumbest thing was, though, we couldn't cook, at all."

Ngakorowai been in a private rental, but her whānau was effectively left homeless when she was given her 90 days notice.

Finding a new house was not easy.

"With the amount of children I have, I was looking for four- to six-bedroom homes. The rent prices, man, $800 to maybe $1250 is what I was looking at, but I knew I couldn't afford anything over $800."

Ngakorowai said as housing costs rose, life became tougher and tougher.

"I feel like a bad mum right now, I can't even provide for them, let alone put warm clothes on them. It's hard living off of a benefit. I live week to week, I get paid on a Wednesday, I have to wait two days - a Sunday and a Monday are normally the days we don't have food."

They were on the social housing waitlist, but Ngakorowai said the government needed to build more affordable houses faster.

"There's so much land out there. My son yesterday when we were driving out in the country, and he's like 'Mum, look at all this land here, how come there's no houses? You know, all these people that own these lands, they could put more houses on for people like us'. And hearing that from an eight-year-old..."

Te Puea Marae, 12 July 2017.

Te Puea Marae. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Valentine is also waiting for a state house for herself and her two young children. She was receiving the supported benefit, but she was not living comfortably by any stretch.

"I'm left over with nothing at the end of the day, well $20, at the end of everything that is paid for."

Valentine said the government should increase benefits.

"With a lot of single mums and single dads out there, with more than two to three children, it would help [to increase the benefit payments]."

She said if the government did that, people would not have to keep going back to Work and Income for things like food grants.

"They should just give us the whole thing, instead of us asking each week."

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has identified reducing child poverty as one of the government's key priorities in the lead up to Thursday's Budget.

He warned it would require sustained investment over the long term to address.

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