STATE houses sit vacant in Gisborne while many families live in desperate situations.
Affordable and suitable housing in this district was discussed at the Tairawhiti Housing Advisory Group meeting yesterday.
A spokesperson for Housing New Zealand Corporation (HNZC) said it had “very low” numbers — six people were on their waiting list for Gisborne.
But that figure was met with amusement and disdain by those at the meeting, many of whom work at the “coal face” with families living in cramped sub-standard conditions.
Community worker Meredith Akuhata-Brown said she knew of at least 30 families in need of better accommodation.
A lot of people were too embarrassed about their situation, so were not going to approach HNZC, she said.
Those who did were taken through a “condescending” flip-chart criteria process. At the end of it many were told they might still not be eligible.
The strict eligibility meant that many families were forced to remain living in cramped conditions.
It was a really messy situation, she said.
“It is just unbelievable that in the 21st century that’s where we are at now.
“You’ve got people moving around friends’ places for two weeks, or how long they can stay for, so we’ve got a lot of transience.”
This was sometimes based on a lack of literacy and understanding the process of how to say to someone “I need a house”.
“Some people find that so shameful,” she said.
Deputy Mayor Nona Aston said there was not even a HNZC office that Gisborne people could go to any more. There was an 0800 number they had to call.
Mrs Akuhata-Brown said some families were living together to help cover costs, with one two-bedroom house in Kaiti the home to four adults and four children.
“I know a family who have not had power on for a month-and-a-half and they have just got used to it. That’s just how it is. They’ve got gas so they can cook. They are a solo mum with four kids and they just have candles at night — but that’s a risk.”
Mrs Akuhata-Brown’s main area of work is in southern Kaiti, where she says there are 30 houses empty in that neighbourhood alone.
“Some of them are ex-state houses, so we don’t know who owns them. But we’ve just been waiting for these houses to have people in them.”
There were instances of private landlords buying houses and renting them to families by the room, she said.
National Radio reported yesterday that 14 percent of state houses in Kaiti are not inhabited.
In Elgin, neighbours next to empty state houses in Munro Street say they have been vacant for months.
Resident Calim Maats has lived in the street for about a year and says some houses have been empty that whole time.
His next-door neighbours moved out six months ago and nobody has moved in.
A Munro Street resident of 23 years said it was not all bad, as the neighbourhood had been a lot quieter recently.
Others want the houses filled and people living back in their community.
The mother of one family living in a state house said she “could not wait” to have neighbours again.
The HNZC spokesperson said they had four vacant properties on Munro Street, which were all three-bedroom houses, when most of their demand was for one and two-bedroom properties, and larger four-plus-bedroom houses.
“Therefore, the properties that are vacant will be sold, and the profits used to acquire and improve state housing in areas of high demand.”
Nine people living in four state houses in Stanley Road have been asked to move because the houses are “potentially earthquake-prone”.
Two of the nine are already in the process of moving to other state rental properties and HNZC is confident of moving the others within 90 days to state rentals that meet their needs.