10 May 2016

Emergency housing funds good start - providers

6:58 am on 10 May 2016

New funding will give some relief to families currently forced to live in cars and garages, emergency housing providers say.

State Housing in Upper Hutt

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The government yesterday announced it will provide $41 million over the next four years to fund 3000 emergency housing places and a special needs grant for people in crisis.

The fund will provide about 800 beds at any one time across New Zealand - 360 of them in Auckland.

Although providers welcomed the announcement, they said the government also needed to address the underlying problems that were leaving increasing numbers of people homeless.

A Salvation Army report released last year found that more than 1200 people were in various states of homelessness in Auckland alone - nearly half of them children.

Monte Cecilia Housing Trust chief executive Bernie Smith said the new funding would not help all those people.

"It's only the tip of the iceberg in the sense of meeting the need - so I congratulate the government on starting this process, but I would dare to suggest that the $41 million could quite easily be used just in Auckland."

Whangarei's Tai Tokerau Emergency Housing Trust said Auckland's housing crisis was spreading north too.

Chairman Adrian Whale said the trust received calls from a dozen families a week - about a third of them from Aucklanders driven out by increasing rents - and his organisation was swamped.

"We can only accommodate seven families at a time, so a large proportion of who we're seeing we're actually having to turn away.

"They're either going further up north, or going into overcrowding situations, or - at worst - going into garages or cars."

He hoped some of the new money came the trust's way.

"That would be our priority ... finding another place where we could house 10 to 12 families."

In Auckland, Vision West Community Trust chief executive Lisa Woolley said more funding would ease the pressure on her organisation.

"We have over 50 people every month phoning... If we had more houses available that would be a really good thing, to get people that [are] perhaps in cars or living with family into emergency housing."

However, that would not ease an emergency housing bottleneck that existed in Auckland, Ms Woolley said.

"In Auckland, where we've got a lack of [housing] supply, we find it just incredibly hard to move people out of emergency housing - so it all gets backlogged because we haven't got long-term, sustainable social housing to move them through to, often."

To fully solve the problem, the government needed to make sure there was also a good supply of rental accommodation, she said.

"If there was more affordable housing coming on the supply side, that would move a lot of those first-home buyers out of rentals into their first home, and that frees up more rental properties for other people to move into," Ms Woolley said.

The government says the first contracts with providers will be in place by September.