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Gisborne in 'severe' housing crisis

A 26-year-old Gisborne woman, seven months pregnant, sleeps on a couch in a three-bedroom home shared by 10 other people.

Across town, a five-bedroom house homes up to 20 people every night.

A family with six children is in unsuitable temporary accommodation. The father works full-time but cannot find a permanent tenancy.

A 42-year old woman and her partner lived in a tent at Pouawa for two months. Both had full-time jobs.

In emergency accommodation for two months, a solo mum with two children under three has been given two weeks to find somewhere else to live.

These are five situations lived right now during the worst period of severe housing deprivation in Gisborne since 2001.

The biggest difference today is the number of people looking for housing who have jobs, says Ka Pai Kaiti manager Tuta Ngarimu.

“That’s the change happening right now.

“We have people living at the beach, with their families, and going into town for work.

“Off the top of my head there needs to be at least 500 new homes built here.

The rising cost of rent, competition with other prospective tenants for private rentals, a lack of social housing and limited emergency accommodation have all combined to create an ever-increasing number of people with nowhere to go.

Severely-crowded dwellings also factor as a lead cause in serious health conditions like rheumatic fever, says Mr Ngarimu.

Nationally, there has been a 27 percent increase over the past year in people who require social housing.

The Labour Government has released an initiative called KiwiBuild.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford has said the Government plans to build 16,000 homes in its first three years, with the aim to increase that up to 10,000 a year for at least 10 years.

Anyone who has not owned a home before, is a NZ citizen or permanent resident, will be able to put their name into a ballot to buy one of these affordable homes. But even this multibillion-dollar scheme gives no certainty, no date when it will start, and it is not an immediate fix to the current conditions.

Mr Ngarimu says the need has stepped up over the past six months and is getting worse.

He wants to raise awareness about the issue so some action is taken now.

“What we want to do is get the feelers out and hear the stories of people, how many kids they have, the ages, and then we can get lobbying, approach the appropriate people.”

Gisborne had 109 applicants on the social housing register waiting list at the end of September. Of those, 75 were classed as priority A, or most at risk, 34 were priority B, and 75 percent required a one or two-bedroom home.

Fourth highestTaking in the wider East Coast, there are 565 applicants on the social housing register, the fourth-highest after Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury, a MSD housing quarterly report says.

On top of that are people who are not on the social housing radar. People who have jobs, cannot find a rental, do not qualify for the strict criteria required by HNZC or MSD to be considered for social housing, but cannot get accepted into a tenancy.

Some of these people without a home have burned their bridges with agencies, have bad credit histories, feel discriminated against but whatever the reason, are homeless families with kids and no one wants to rent to these people, said Mr Ngarimu.

“So now we’ve got whanau living in sheds or couch surfing.

“Our new suburbs are going to be beaches.

“They’re going around in circles and there is nothing for them there in the future. There’s just nothing.

“Then you’ve got people on the waiting list who are being bullied into taking accommodation that’s just not appropriate for them. I am talking about boarding houses around Gisborne.”

Forrester House is one example. The building was part of Gisborne Hospital until 2003. It still houses people who are dealing with mental health issues and addiction problems.

Tairawhiti Beneficiary Advocacy Trust co-ordinator Shelly Hannah agrees. Her concerns are about people, particularly women and children, placed in unsafe emergency accommodation while awaiting housing.

“Our numbers started rising in June 2016 and haven’t reduced,” she said.

Mr Ngarimu knows of people being housed in boarding homes who have children. In these homes there are also people with mental health problems.

“They are damaging their whanau.

“There is discrimination still going on out there with people who are meant to be helping them. The conditions of these boarding homes need to be really looked at.”

Two-year searchSome people have been looking for almost two years, which makes the 26-year-old mother-to-be’s house hunt of six or seven months seem short. But with a baby arriving in the new year, her situation is urgent.

She is on a waiting list for a HNZC home, and admits her bad credit history has made it hard to find a rental. She also has a seven-year-old daughter who is living with her grandfather until they can get a home.

Then there is the 49-year-old father with a full-time job, who feels landlords will not rent to him because he is Maori and has six children.

“I’ve worked hard all my life and never had anything handed to me by anyone," he said.

“We’ve probably shifted about three times this year. It’s been hard. Our references are all good but no one will give us an opportunity.”

The temporary accommodation they are in is not suitable for their children aged from four to 16, but he and his wife work every day to keep their family together.

The family has been in a downward spiral since they lost money through a dodgy rent-to-buy scheme that did not eventuate. Since then they have been shifting between temporary accommodation options.

A 42-year-old support worker and her partner, who works in the forestry industry, were living at Pouawa Beach in a tent for two months. Both had good jobs, good references and a stable history of renting, but were repeatedly turned down for rentals.

“Every property we looked at through real estate agencies, there were 30-40 people looking at same time.

“We kept looking and every time we would miss out.”

Last weekend they finally managed to secure a one-bedroom flat through Trade Me. Finally having a roof over their heads was, “amazing”, she said.

Emergency accommodationBut her daughter and two grandchildren, aged 2 and 3, were still struggling to find a place. They have been housed in emergency accommodation for two months and have been told they have two weeks left.

In contrast to the increased need in Gisborne for social and emergency housing is the $563 million MSD has spent on housing support in New Zealand for the three months ended September 2017. The quarterly MSD report also shows a 20 percent decrease in the number of emergency housing special need grants paid, as more transitional houses became available.

Picture by Liam Clayton