17 Feb 2016

Aucklanders fleeing high rents put pressure on Northland

2:56 pm on 17 February 2016

Aucklanders fleeing the big city because of high rents are straining the resources of a Northland emergency housing service.


There is no longer a Housing New Zealand officer in Whangarei for people to talk to. Photo: Lisa Conze / CC SA 1.0

The Tai Tokerau Emergency Housing Trust provides temporary accommodation in Whangarei, at a former motel and a house.

But Trust chair Adrian Whale said it was having to turn families away, and it had given up operating a waiting list, because of the numbers needing help.

"Two years ago we could house about 75 percent of our tenants within six weeks in a Housing New Zealand property," he said. "Now less than 10 percent find an HNZ home in that timeframe. "

Mr Whale said that meant the Trust was housing families for longer periods, up to three months.

"It seems that once families come here they are deemed to have a roof over their heads so their situation is no longer seen as a crisis by MSD."

Mr Whale said the waiting periods had increased since the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) took over the former Housing NZ role of allocating houses.

"There seems to be more of a disconnect going on; and also people applying for a HNZ house have to do their interview to by phone to MSD in Auckland, and that just adds to their stress. There's no longer an HNZ officer they can talk to in Whangarei."

In the past six months there had been an increase in Aucklanders and working families seeking help from the Whangarei trust, he said.

"It breaks the staff's heart, really to turn these people away, because they're in dire situations and we know we're the landlord of last resort.

Mr Whale said the Trust had recently received MSD funding for a social worker to help people find and keep rental housing, and work through their difficulties.

"We are really grateful for that, because it makes us more sustainable as a service," he said.

"What we'd like to do is appeal to any benevolent landlords out there, who might consider letting their place to a family or person that doesn't have a rent history, on condition that the social worker will be working with them to keep them on track, and guide them on how to be good tenants," he says.

Families the Trust was forced to turn away were living in tents and cars, or heading further north in the hope of finding a home, said Mr Whale.

Luciana Manuel with two of her grandsons.

Luciana Manuel with two of her grandsons. Photo: RNZ / Lois WIlliams

Among those who had managed to get accommodation with the Trust was Luciana Manuel.

At the age of 52, Mrs Manuel had taken her three grandsons, aged two, three and five, into her care.

They were staying in a one-bedroom unit while they waited for an HNZ house - and had been waiting for about three months.

Mrs Manuel said she was grateful for her unit, but she was bemused by the speed with which refugees from further afield, were found homes.

"They come to New Zealand and 'bang' they get a house just like that.

"What about your own New Zealand people... we're sitting here waiting and waiting for a home, and it can get really, really frustrating coz you know, you've got three kids and you've only got one room."

A young woman with a three-year-old daughter, who asked not to be named, had also been in the emergency accommodation centre for three months.

She gave up a Housing New Zealand home to enter a six-month-residential rehab course last year - and said she was assured she'd be rehoused if she completed the course.

Now clean, sober and taking boxing lessons to keep fit, there was no sign of a house for her.