No Christchurch rental crisis -'Pontius' Brownlee

People may be sleeping in cars, sheds and garages, but there is no rental housing crisis in Christchurch, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says.

"This is a problem, I'll accept that, but I don't think this is a crisis," he said yesterday.

Christchurch East Labour MP Lianne Dalziel compared Brownlee's approach to that of Pontius Pilate.

Brownlee's comments follow those from welfare agencies, economists and MPs stressing the crisis has hit breaking point and the Government has no choice but to intervene.

The Press recently spoke to two single mothers who faced homelessness after landlords increased their rent. One had to move into a damaged home in the heart of the red zone and the other had been couch-surfing for the past four weeks with her children.

Agencies grappling with the problem claim to have seen people unlawfully overcrowding houses, sleeping in cars and garages, and families that have had to move into damaged red-zoned homes to escape the city's soaring rents.

Recently disclosed Trade Me figures show demand for rental properties in Christchurch has increased 42 per cent, supply has dived 40 per cent and rent has climbed 15 per cent on last year.

Brownlee said the steep increase in rent was "not a problem that has been brought to my attention".

The Government would not intervene in the issue, he said.

"A rent freeze doesn't increase supply and will never encourage new stock to come in. We won't be moving to regulate rents but we most certainly are actively providing new housing."

He "recognised there was a problem a couple of weeks ago", but criticism that the Government had ignored the city's housing crisis was "unfair".

"Political opponents have raised issues, not solutions. The Government is taking action and we have outlined our plan of attack many times."

Land on the outskirts of the city had been freed for potential subdivisions, more rapid consenting processes were being discussed, temporary accommodation services and assistance packages were available, housing villages were expanding and he had asked Housing New Zealand and the Christchurch City Council to accelerate repairs on quake-damaged homes, he said.

Dalziel said the housing shortage had hit breaking point and was rapidly snowballing into an "extreme crisis".

"The Government has to intervene. It has the most extensive powers that any government has had since wartime," she said.

"Gerry Brownlee is like Pontius Pilate by just washing his hands of all this."

She said there needed to be a cap on rent increases to stop landlords taking advantage of quake-hit residents.

"People are living in a First World country in what I would consider as close to Third World conditions, and the Government is well aware of this," she said.

"They have a moral obligation to intervene and ensure people are not racking up rents to take advantage of the current market."

Dalziel had heard of one mother in the eastern suburbs whose rent had increased from $360 a week to $600.

She was also aware of 11 people living in a two-bedroom house.

"What do they want to have happen before they are willing to act?" she said.

The Press