25 Jan 2017

Homeless Marlborough families in motels, tents

5:44 am on 25 January 2017

The cost of houses and rentals is not just hurting Aucklanders.

Marlborough families are living in makeshift options, including tents and caravans, or using the government's emergency accommodation grant to stay in motels while they look for homes.

According to Trade Me's latest index on rental asking prices, Marlborough's shot up 23 percent in a year.

Callan Dench and his two daughters are among those finding it tough.

Callan Dench - for Marlborough housing story.

Callan Dench. Photo: Supplied

"There's two bedroom houses for $320, there's a three bedroom here for $400. Now how can you afford that on a benefit? It's hard."

Mr Dench is using an emergency housing grant to stay at Bings Motel in Blenheim.

He is desperate to move into his own place before school starts.

He said they were not alone.

"At Bings at the moment there are actually four other families here, all in the same situation.

"Bings have actually had to turn away people because it's just full here.

With summer events like the Wine and Food Festival next month in Marlborough, a lot of the motels that take people on the emergency accommodation grant are booked up with incoming visitors.

"We've all got to be out of here by the 3rd because they've got the [festival] coming," Mr Dench said.

"People are going to be homeless again."

Callan Dench said he knew a woman who had spent the last seven weeks living in a tent because she could not find housing she could afford.

Another woman who spoke to RNZ said she had been to house viewings where 30 candidates competed for "a dump".

Sixteen Korean factory workers in a four-bedroom house

Janette Walker - for Marlborough housing story.

Janette Walker. Photo: Supplied

Janette Walker works for the Crossroads Charitable Trust in Blenheim. She said her primary job was helping struggling families find homes.

"In 2015 people that were homeless I'd say were predominantly single people without children.

"Last year it just increased. You still had the single people, but I had more and more families," she said.

"The worst day I think I had, I had 11 families walk through the door."

In the last five months, more than 90 families and individuals had been in and out of motels while searching for a suitable long-term rental, she said.

She said property owners moving tenants on and selling houses. along with competition with seasonal workers, drove the rise in homeless families.

Ms Walker said in one case, 16 Koreans were living in a four-bedroom Blenheim house while they worked for a local factory.

"They put four to a bedroom, so... for a five bedroom house you can have 20 people in it and they charge $130 [per person] a week.

"They're going to do that rather than rent it out to a family for say $400 a week," she said.

"They're making about $2000 a week renting it out to seasonal workers."

Seasonal workers struggle for accommodation

Wine Marlborough manager Marcus Pickens was concerned the lack of housing for seasonal workers could slow wine industry growth.

The number of seasonal workers was expected to increase by 24 percent in the next two years. The region would be squeezed until more housing was built, he said.

"If we provide the accommodation, we attract the right kind of people, then our economy is going to grow."

A developer has applied for resource consent to develop a facility to house more than 400 seasonal workers. Submissions close on Friday with a hearing scheduled for 22 February.

"It's just going to probably be that pressure point for the next couple of seasons as we wait for those accommodation units to be built," Mr Pickens said.

The government said the emergency housing grant, which began in July 2016, cost about $7.7m to December.

Social Housing Minister Amy Adams said the grant was a quick, short-term solution for those in need while longer-term solutions were developed.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs