24 Dec 2015

Boy trapped inside HNZ house

7:34 am on 24 December 2015

A 13-year-old boy had to remain in hospital for two months after surgery because Housing New Zealand could not move his family to a house with wheelchair access.

Gia Seuseu and her youngest son on the steps of her Glen Eden home.

Gia Seuseu and her youngest son on the steps of her Glen Eden home. Photo: RNZ/ Alex Ashton

His mother Gia Seuseu fears he will be either stuck in hospital or indoors once again, as he's soon due to have another operation and the house the family currently live in doesn't cater for his needs.

The boy suffers from a hip problem and needs ongoing surgery.

The family of six has been asking to be moved for over a year, but are still stuck on a transfer list.

Meanwhile, they live in a privately owned home which is leased through Housing New Zealand.

But it is small and accessed over a section of grass and gravel, and then up a set of stairs.

After the boy's first major operation last year, doctors wanted to see the house themselves to deem whether it was suitable. It was so unsuitable they decided to keep him in hospital for two months while he recovered, rather than risk sending him home.

"She came with the wheelchair and did an assessment, and then she found out this house is not suitable," Mrs Seuseu said.

Not only does it not have wheelchair access, it also has narrow passages and doorways.

Gia Seuseu says the back entrance is no easier to access than the front.

Gia Seuseu says the back entrance is no easier to access than the front. Photo: RNZ/ Alex Ashton

Travelling to and from Starship Hospital for two months was expensive and time-consuming, so doctors reluctantly trained her son to use crutches so he could go home.

But he still had to be carried in and out of the house - and Mrs Seuseu decided she would have to home-school him.

"I'm so weak because I have to carry my son and he's too heavy.

"The bathroom and the toilet are just not right."

Her son has another operation booked for next month and Mrs Seuseu was worried he might end up stuck in hospital again.

Until they were moved to a home with wheelchair access he would be housebound, because she was not strong enough to carry him in and out, she said.

Housing New Zealand contacted Mrs Seuseu after RNZ asked the corporation about her story.

In a statement it said it was looking to transfer the family to a modified, four-bedroom house while her son recovered from his next operation.

"Given their requirement for a modified home is temporary, we are looking to transfer the Seuseu family directly from their current home to one that meets their immediate needs.

"The type of home the family requires - a modified four-bedroom one - is in high demand, therefore should we be able to find one that is suitable, the tenancy agreement will be valid for as long as the modifications are required."

Once Mrs Seuseu's son has fully recovered, the family's needs would be reassessed so another family could make use of the modified property.

The standard of state housing has made headlines this year, most notably with the death of toddler Emma-Lita Bourne, which a coroner said was partially due to her cold, damp house.

Labour MP Carmel Sepuloni has been asking for figures on how many children were on Housing New Zealand's transfer list for health reasons.

She was told the government did not produce that data.

"We've had high profile cases in the media of young children who've died in houses because of the condition of those homes," she said.

"Therefore we believe that the Ministry [of Social Development], and the minister, should be collating that information because we need to know who is on the register for health reasons."

The Ministry of Social Development said it did have the number and had limited resources with which to answer data requests.

It considered families' individual circumstances when prioritising transfer requests.

Minister for Social Housing Paula Bennett refused to comment.

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