17 Feb 2016

Where's the promised $2m for emergency housing?

9:00 am on 17 February 2016

Nearly five months on from the government's promise to pump $2 million into emergency housing in Auckland, no money has been spent.

A Vision West house in the Auckland suburb of Ranui.

Photo: RNZ / Lauren Baker

The government announced the funding in September last year to deal with a major shortage in temporary accommodation for vulnerable New Zealanders.

The $2m was earmarked to provide an extra 120 emergency housing places a year for families and individuals.

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National MP, Paula Bennett.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said they were still negotiating with providers to decide which ones the money would go to.

"We've gone to the tender process, we've RFP'd, we've got them in. We're currently in negotiations with an organisation in Auckland to look at how we get the new places.

"The $500,000 before that had already been distributed and helping those organisations; $2m was new money and, as I say, it's still going through the process."

Labour Party housing spokesperson Phil Twyford said that was not good enough.

"It is deeply upsetting that the government - they threw a measly $2m in a kind of a panicked public relations bid to try to make it look as if they're doing something.

Caucus run 21/07/15

Labour Party housing spokesperson Phil Twyford Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"And, four months later, they still haven't made any progress on putting more emergency housing in place."

Cabinet documents obtained by Labour show the government was told in September the situation in Auckland was acute, with virtually no urgent vacancies and insufficient funding.

As a result, the Ministry of Social Development has had to put people up in motels.

Mrs Bennett said she was well aware of how dire the situation was in Auckland - she wrote the Cabinet paper.

"But that's part of emergency housing at the moment. We've got [it] fragmented across government, fragmented across the sector itself - a combination of no security of funding from government [and] some that don't want it, that want to be actually going via charities and get donations other ways."

The Salvation Army's senior policy analyst, Alan Johnson, told Morning Report the reality was that getting people into emergency housing took longer than the government thought it did.

"Emergency housing providers that are in Auckland are struggling, partly because they do not have enough funding already, and simply saying 'here's some funding to do more', when you're struggling to do what you're doing, is a bit difficult for them. I understand that this year's budget in May has some more long-term funding and I think that's what we need to actually get people to make it that commitment to doing things properly and well.

Mr Johnson said a lack of state houses also made it very difficult to move those who did get emergency housing to a permanent home.

The director of emergency housing provider Island Child, Danielle Bergin, said she hoped the situation would be sorted by winter.

"May, June, July are really, really difficult times. That's when we're getting asked by families sleeping in their cars, the children arrive with coughs, with ear infections, really they've been cold, they've been malnourished for quite some time."

Ms Bergin said it was disheartening knowing the government had money set aside for the sector, but no-one was getting it.

"The sector is desperate for the resources and we are desperate for assistance now for these families, and the individuals."

RNZ News understands the government will announce more funding and support for emergency housing in this year's budget.

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