1 Apr 2021

Disabled communities in Dunedin detail struggle to find adequate housing

6:35 pm on 1 April 2021

Dunedin's disabled communities have sent a clear message to local and central government: Don't forget about us - we need homes too.

Views towards the city from the lookout at the Centennial Memorial on Signal Hill Dunedin Otago South Island New Zealand

Dunedin (file image). Photo: 123RF

The city hosted an Accessible Housing Forum today and several politicians heard harrowing stories from those living with disabilities.

A quarter of New Zealanders live with some form of disability, but only two percent of homes have been built with accessibility in mind.

In an overheated housing market it was tough for anyone to find a home, but Access for All representative Chris Ford said it was much tougher for those with disabilities.

"It is a very deep crisis, it's overlaid a crisis that pre-existed the housing crisis for the non-disabled population. I think that for younger people today, younger disabled people there's also that same desire that their peers have to go out and live independently but there are those affordability and accessibility issues as well," Ford said.

Those living with disabilities faced higher costs of living, which meant the dream of home ownership was much harder to attain, he said.

In fact, despite his own university education and working close to full-time, the housing crisis led to Ford spending 11 months without a home.

"I was living in transitional housing in a motel but I was officially classified as being homeless and during that time, for part of it anyway, I was expected to look for accommodation myself."

His hunt for a home ended with the assistance of Kāinga Ora last month, but his experience motivated him to organise today's forum.

His new home was warm, dry, affordable and accessible, but not everyone was so lucky, Ford said.

Piotr Miezerjewski said he had a home that suited him until last year when an SUV crashed into it.

Despite most of the building being deemed unsafe to inhabit, Piotr still lived there.

"The part that I'm living in is essentially my bedroom and one-fourth of my living room has been kind of converted. Otherwise where else am I supposed to live? Under a bridge?"

It was not for a lack of trying.

Miezerjewski said he lost count of the homes he had viewed in the past year, but estimated it was about 200.

Of those only a few were affordable, and even fewer had appropriate accessibility for his wheelchair.

Compounding the problem was that he and his wife's income meant they were ineligible for Ministry of Social Development support.

"When I rang MSD about it they said 'Look, we appreciate that you've still got a disability, however, due to the rules and regulations you're over the threshold - we can't do anything about it. As much as we'd love to do something about it, we can't'," Miezerjewski said.

But Piotr and Chris' stories were not isolated examples.

Several Labour and Green MPs, including the Associate Minister of Housing Poto Williams were at the forum, as well as Dunedin's mayor Aaron Hawkins.

They heard harrowing stories from those with a range of impairments and how that had affected their ability to find safe, warm, liveable and accessible housing.

Williams told the forum Kāinga Ora had started building new social housing in Dunedin, and 15 percent of all new homes would be built with disability access.

Disability advocates hoped to develop an Accessible Housing Action Plan for Otepoti-Dunedin and the wider Otago region.