12 Aug 2021

Housing shortage harm 'the weight of the world'

8:21 pm on 12 August 2021

The housing crisis is hitting Kaikohe so badly overcrowding is now the norm, not the exception, residents say.

Kaikohe, in the Far North District.

Kaikohe, in the Far North District. Photo: RNZ / Samantha Olley

It's one of the few places in New Zealand with a median house price below $300,000 - increasing buyer-interest from out of town but reducing the rental pool.

In the last Census, the median annual income was just $19,000.

Kaikohe real estate agent Sandra Robinson told RNZ she was worried as "old health issues start popping up" with growing overcrowding.

"And of course that puts pressure on the house, [it] puts pressure on everything, the whole shebang."

Te Hau Ora Ō Ngāpuhi chief executive Te Rōpu Poa (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Te Rino, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Kahu) said there were so few houses available in Kaikohe that whānau were putting up with substandard homes or splitting up, to avoid sleeping in cars or motels.

"It's normal, overcrowding. It's normal."

House prices rose 22 percent in the last year and figures from the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand out today show Northland was one of two New Zealand regions that saw an increase in sales volumes in the last year.

Whakamanamai Whānau Trust work sites

Whakamanamai Whānau Trust work sites Photo: Supplied

Te Hau Ora Ō Ngāpuhi is planning a multi-million dollar housing development in Kaikohe to help ease the pressure.

Te Rōpu Poa said those hoping to own their own home in the town were being priced out.

She has ninety-four staff and estimated less than 20 percent owned the house they lived in.

"They've been in KiwiSaver, they've ticked all the boxes that the system wants them to comply with. Now - they can't afford a shithole in Kaikohe. So I want to build brand new homes for them and their families, to create that asset for whānau in terms of future, because you can't get your grandparents house or your parents house. They don't own them anymore."

Data from the 2018 Census showed dwellings in Northland were the dampest in New Zealand.

In Kaikohe specifically, 40 percent of households had significant mould.

One renting mother told RNZ her home should have been in a better condition when she moved in but there was nowhere else she could go if she kicked up a fuss.

"I got a four-bedroom and it's really cold as, especially for my kids."

Whakamanamai Whānau Trust work sites

Whakamanamai Whānau Trust work sites Photo: Supplied

Another renter said tightened tenancy laws backfired for her last year.

"If they were to fix it, the rent was to go up. So I pretty much was living on enough to pay what I was paying but once I heard that I moved out."

The Whakamanamai Whānau Trust in Kaikohe has started renting out portable cabins to go on Māori land.

The 'Whare to the Whenua' scheme has been used by about 200 family members since it started last year.

The trust also rents out rooms above its office on the main street.

Leader Rhonda Zielinski (Ngāpuhi) is contacted by people in need on a daily basis.

"It feels sometimes like you've got the weight of the world on your shoulders," she said.

"We feel morally convicted to try and find a solution and some of the families we work with, they're hard families ... They don't have good credit ratings. They don't have a lot of income. They might have prior things you know - challenges or barriers - but they still deserve to be clean and dry and warm."

Whakamanamai Whānau Trust work sites

Whakamanamai Whānau Trust work sites Photo: Supplied

Similarly, not-for-profit Ngā Whetu o te Wā Kaikohe has set up a base to build prefabricated cabins for whānau, that can easily meet consent standards.

Director Paul Wihongi (Ngāpuhi, Te Uri o Hua, Takoto Kē, Ngāti Kura) expects they will be priced from $10,000.

"We're not here for the money. I know there's a whole lot of money to be made in housing but that's not our focus. Our focus is about making good healthy homes for our whānau and anybody else who wants one."

For those who can't afford to upgrade the house they own, Healthy Homes Tai Tokerau installs subsidised insulation.

Operations manager Haka Bristow (Ngāti Hine) has lived the problem.

"I was born and raised in a tin shack sort of, no running water, no power. So I understand ... But to see them 30 years on from where I came from and people still living like that. Yeah it is quite sad."

But it also drives her mahi.

"Even though it's a stinking job and you're getting bashed up around by the piles or your hair's getting caught in the nails or the timber or something like that - it's worth it after you come out and you look at the family and they've got smiles from ear to ear, they're so thankful. The appreciation behind it, that's awesome."

Haka Bristow's team takes referrals from across the region, the DHB, online applications, and word of mouth.

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