30 Sep 2020

Housing crisis now 'housing chaos' - emergency housing provider

9:07 pm on 30 September 2020

The country has surpassed a housing crisis and has now reached "housing chaos", according to one emergency housing provider.

Bernie Smith.

Monte Cecilia Housing Trust chief executive Bernie Smith. Photo: RNZ / Charlie Dreaver

Monte Cecilia Housing Trust chief executive Bernie Smith walks around the trust's Māngere site while children run around and play on bikes under a large tree.

It is one of few remnants of what used to be here before the site underwent a $12 million upgrade in 2018, of which more than $8m came from a government loan.

But Smith said Monte Cecilia should never have been allowed to grow so big over the years.

"In 2016, we had 30 properties today we've got 400 properties, we've got 300 families waiting for a home and it just saddens me, particularly when children are involved," he said.

The public housing register has more than tripled from 5844 in September 2017 to 19,438 in July 2020.

Smith said families were spending anywhere between 60 to 80 percent of their household income on rent- forcing many out of the private rental market.

He said the situation had now moved beyond a crisis.

"In fact, it's gone to a housing chaos and we know the previous government wouldn't call it a crisis, they just called it housing pressure.

"When Labour was wanting to be elected and they called it a crisis, we called it a crisis, but it has gone beyond the crisis," he said.

He did note that the coalition government had brought in the Green's progressive home ownership scheme and that it had delivered more than 3000 public houses, but it was not enough to meet demand.

"We know the wait registers actually growing at over 2000 per quarter," he said.

Danielle Bergin.

Danielle Bergin started Island Child after experiencing homelessness first hand. Photo: RNZ / Charlie Dreaver

Meanwhile, in Point England a wrap-around support service called Island Child is helping families and young people get back on their feet after they lose their home.

Danielle Bergin was busy making, tea, doing washing and odd jobs to help keep the place running smoothly.

She set up Island Child after experiencing homelessness first hand, and there is now enough tiny homes and buildings to house up to 12 families at a time.

One of the newer residents is a 19-year-old who wishes to remain anonymous, moved in about a week ago with her two-year-old son.

She had to leave her rental of two years, due to the fact it was so flood-damaged and damp the landlord deemed it no longer safe enough to live in.

Attempts to find a new rental have been unsuccessful.

"It's just they see I'm on a WINZ benefit, plus I'm still young and stuff like that and they just decline it, they just say no.

"Oh my gosh, I have heaps of houses I've been to and it's all been declined."

Bergin said the ability to find private rentals was becoming increasingly difficult.

"They [property agents] used to actually say to me take your pick Dani, of which you'd like your beneficiary family to go.

"Ninety percent of my outcomes were private and 10 percent was state and now it's turned the other way," she said.

Room at Island Child.

A room at Island Child. Photo: RNZ / Charlie Dreaver

Those who arrive at Island Child are given warm, dry, clean and safe accommodation.

However, Bergin said the same could not be said about some of the motels that families are being put into.

"When you walk into some of them, they are filthy and the net curtains are black and the mould and just the smell.

"We've had to bring in a mother here who got a motel unit in Ellerslie and opened the drawers and there were the used meth packets, the plastic packets," she said.

There were 6001 emergency housing special needs grants in July down from 6153 in June, most of which went to motel stays.

But despite the challenges, Bergin said at least the coalition government listened and now most of the costs from Island Child were covered by a government contract.

Whereas the last few years under a National government almost broke her, she said.

"When it came through that National had won [in 2014], I walked around for two days in a daze, I've never prayed so much in my life.

"I was thinking, 'how the heck am I going to survive another three years, we've done six, how am I going to survive another three years and keep the entity going?'"

But National leader Judith Collins defended her party's track record.

"I thought that we did very well with community housing providers, particularly in places like Masterton and also I saw some really good work happening in Auckland," she said.

She said her party wanted to go further with special housing areas and would repeal and replace the RMA if elected.

Labour Party housing spokesperson Megan Woods said under Labour there would be 18,000 new public and transitional houses (since 2017) by 2024.

"We are building more public houses than any government since the 1970s and that is something we can take a huge amount of pride in," she said.

"On the other side of that ledger we do see a waiting list that is growing and one of the things I do find extraordinarily frustrating is that the preceding decade did see us end up with 1500 fewer houses than the National Party started with."

No CGT pushing house prices up - Greens

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson wanted public housing and non-profit rentals to be prioritised next term, but she also wanted to get to the root of the problem.

"It's a real bugger that we are not taxing capital gains from asset wealth that is part of what is continuing to drive the house prices increasing and their unaffordability," she said.

She said because Arderm ruled out a capital gains tax her party was now pushing for a wealth tax.

But Monte Cecilia's Smith had a simple message for whoever forms the next government.

"There's a lot of blame, 'it was the previous government, it was this government', those that are homeless don't care what government it is, they need a home."

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