15 Jan 2021

Escalating rent prices forcing families into emergency housing

10:05 am on 15 January 2021

A Whānau Ora provider in Lower Hutt says escalating rents are driving families out of their homes and into emergency housing.

A row of 2 storey new buildings

Social housing in Ōtāhuhu. Photo: RNZ Insight/Eva Corlett

The number of grants being given out by the Ministry of Social Development has increased substantially over the past couple of years.

Just under 4000 Emergency Housing Special Needs Grants were given out in September 2018.

Fast forward two years later, and that number is now just short of 10,000.

Between March and September last year alone, the number of grants shot up by 3000, as the Covid-19 pandemic led to a rush to provide everyone with a roof over their heads.

Jo Denvir, the chief executive of Lifewise, an Auckland-based social service which provides wrap-around housing support, said the need for social housing just keeps growing.

"As fast as we get people into permanent housing, the motel accommodation is still filling up," she said.

"So that tells you the need is still there, and quite often, we just don't have spaces to house anyone, in motels."

In some cases, she said they have turned to options they would rather not be using, putting people in what she describes as "unsafe boarding houses".

"For people who are really vulnerable and have potentially quite complex needs, it's really really critical that they also have the wraparound support.

"Otherwise they tend to be more vulnerable to being evicted, when they're being put into accommodation, without support."

Once people are moved into emergency accommodation, the next step is to get them into either transitional or permanent housing. But supply is severely limited.

Meanwhile, in Lower Hutt, one Whānau Ora provider said the number of people needing support is increasing.

The homeless prevention service manager for Takiri Mai te Ata Whānau Ora Collective, Lynda Ryan, said escalating rental prices are driving families out of their homes.

"What we're seeing is private rental in the market and the amount of rent that whānau are having to pay is impacting on their bottom lines.

"What that means is that many are getting into the situations where they need to go onto the social housing register."

But she said the social housing register is already 800 people strong in the Hutt Valley, and there is not the housing stock to move whānau into.

As such, they are being put in emergency accommodation - a motel.

A serious housing shortage means for many in emergency accommodation, it is a long-term visit.

"The solution to this whole problem is more stock, more housing," Ryan said.

"You can't build them fast enough, but we need to have an ability to cap these increases in rent to a point where people can actually live in a home and be able to feed themselves and pay their power bill while paying their rent."

In the short term, she said they desperately need more funding for the services that are out there now.

'Implications on a number of things'

Chief executive Ali Hamlin-Paenga of Kahungunu Whānau Services, a Housing First provider based in Wellington said her organisation is also seeing the desperate housing plight for the whānau it is helping.

She told Morning Report those whānau are being pushed further down the list because of a new group of people who have lost their jobs in the Covid-19 pandemic.

"It's a growing issue. It's very complex and it's having implications on a number of things."

The implications included the impact on children's education - some had to shift schools or if they were moving from motel to motel they could not access their education centres because of transport costs.

"It's more than just about their housing; it's about the entire community, it's about their lifestyle, it's about their economic situation, their education, and their employment situation."

Hamlin-Paenga said government departments should release some of their power back to the NGOs so they can work with the whānau and the NGOs should be more trusted because they provide the wraparound services that are also needed.

The social housing register should be considered for handing over to the NGOs, she said.

"We should not be in a position where we are fighting the system, on behalf of our people who are homeless or very vulnerable, to get their entitlements or have them considered for transitional or emergency housing which is currently what is happening."

Alongside the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development is also providing motel accommodation for people to live in.

But those contracts are up soon - meaning those currently settled in those accommodations will need to find somewhere else to go.

Ministry aiming for more houses

In a statement, the Ministry of Social Development's housing manager, Karen Hocking, said they are working to create more houses long-term.

"Across government, there is a major programme of work underway aimed at increasing the supply of public housing and improving housing affordability and supply.

"This includes planning, and with Kāinga Ora, delivering more public housing, transitional housing, and services to tackle homelessness.

"[The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development] is also working to improve housing affordability and supply for aspiring homeowners."

But Jo Denvir from Lifewise said it's time for government to start funding community organisations such as themselves to build housing.

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