29 Apr 2015

Call for housing supplement equality

5:57 pm on 29 April 2015

Social housing providers in Christchurch want the Ministry of Social Development to pay the same amount in accommodation supplements to their clients, as it pays to people in Auckland.

Housing damaged by the Christchurch earthquake

Housing damaged by the Christchurch earthquake Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The call came today at a meeting of the Christchurch City Council's Housing Taskforce, which aims to deal with the city's housing crisis.

Manager of the housing provider Comcare Annette Sutherland said rents in the city have reached Auckland prices, but the accommodation supplement paid by the Ministry did not reflect that.

"If you had a situation in Christchurch for instance where you said a Christchurch elderly person is not entitled to have their prescription paid for, whereas an elderly person in Auckland is, everybody would be horrified. So why is it a single parent in Christchurch is getting less than a person in exactly the same situation in Auckland."

Rents in Christchurch have increased 20 percent in the past three years.

However a single mother with two children on a low income receives $45 a week less than the same sized family in Auckland.

Quake damage has left Christchurch with a chronic housing shortage.

Quake damage has left Christchurch with a chronic housing shortage. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Annette Sutherland said she suspected the Ministry was worried about having to increase the payment across the board, if it gave way in Christchurch.

"I've talked about it for two years now and people kind of shuffle their feet because accommodation supplement isn't something they want to talk about, because we would be a bit of a tipping point, because if they start looking at equity across the country, it would be a bit of a poison chalice, a genie's bottle."

The Methodist Mission's Jill Hawkey said she saw the impact high rents were having on families every day.

"There's two or three families actually living in one house. We also see families who by day will live out of a car and then will drive up to a relative's or a friend's place at night, so the kids can sleep inside. Sometimes the adults will sleep in the car."

Jill Hawkey said landlords were replacing affordable rentals damaged in the earthquakes, with town houses that were out of the reach of most of her clients.

"The actual number of houses in Christchurch is almost back to pre-quake levels but what's happened is they're not affordable."

Christchurch Methodist Mission executive director Jill Hawkey.

Christchurch Methodist Mission executive director Jill Hawkey. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

The YWCA's Leigh Steele said the women and children she helped were discriminated against by landlords.

"Mums on their own with young children, they're not a priority as far as landlords are concerned. Most landlords want professional couples that will pay the rent."

The Ministry of Social Development, which has 500 people on its waiting list for emergency accommodation in Christchurch, declined a request to be interviewed.

Minister for Social Housing, Paula Bennett was unavailable.