24 Jun 2015

PM's state house advice 'a bit glib'

5:33 am on 24 June 2015

Otara residents have scoffed at the Prime Minister's advice to people living in cold, damp state houses to "reach out for more help".

Housing New Zealand says the demand now is for larger homes, and smaller one bedroom units.

Photo: RNZ / Teresa Cowie

Yesterday John Key said the Government was working hard to improve state houses, and he encouraged people to contact Housing New Zealand and the Ministry of Social Development if they needed extra support.

But residents in the south Auckland suburb said that was exactly what they were doing.

Jo Iosefo had lived in Otara for 43 years, and said he had known many of the local families for generations.

"These people have been asking for help week after week, and still it's the same thing...Housing New Zealand just sends someone to fix these problems, and it's not been fixed," he said.

He said once people had asked for help, they were being bounced between Government departments.

"People are sick and tired of ringing, and they refer them from Housing New Zealand to social welfare, to Housing New Zealand, so people are giving up," he said.

"So people rather just stay in there and take the cold, because they are sick of running around you know, sick of running around with nothing happening."

Bonnie and William Moa

Bonnie and William Moa Photo: RNZ / Nicole Pryor

One of the people doing the calling was Bonnie Moa.

Bonnie and William Moa said they were desperate to get out of their house, as it had rotting wet floors covered in black mould.

"We're hoping they'll put us in a different house, because they've been coming here all the time, painting...it's like a ticking time bomb every time we sleep here," said Ms Moa.

She said she had been asking for help all year.

Rotting floorboards in Bonnie and William Moa's house

Rotting floorboards in Bonnie and William Moa's house Photo: RNZ / Nicole Pryor

"I've asked my budgeter for advice, I've called Housing New Zealand lots of times this year...more than I have in my life, sorry to say, more than ever, but any time we ask them for something, it's never good enough, I think," she said.

"Most of the times when I did ring, right, they'd say we'll get back to you, then like 10 days later, I'm ringing them again, and they're like 'oh sorry that's been declined' and I am like why didn't you get a hold of me, so we didn't even know about it."

Yvonne Matson had worked at the Otara Citizen's Advice Bureau as a volunteer for 13 years.

Ms Matson said people did know where to go to get help, and many of them were coming to the bureau.

"And these ones sleeping under bridges and these sorts of things, they're still coming in asking for help, they've got no food...and it's happening all the time, people sleeping in cars...but they are still coming in and asking for help," she said.

Limited options

Salvation Army senior policy anaylst Alan Johnson said although there was some additional help available, the Prime Minister's advice made it seem like there were many options when it was not the case.

"It's a little bit glib to sort of claim or create the impression that this assistance is available when in many cases it practically isn't," he said.

"There's a thing called temporary assistance, but it's a limited entitlement, and if for example you've used it to pay rent arrears or something like that, then you don't have any option to now come and ask to help pay the power bill."

Mr Johnson said households who had used all their options were heading to the Salvation Army - and there were about 40,000 to 50,000 of them a year.