More than 350 Wellington families are awaiting state homes, leading to cases of seven people sleeping in a single living room.
Generations of families were crammed into overcrowded homes while they sat on waiting lists, Porirua city councillor Litea Ah Hoi said. "It's just so unhealthy for our babies."
Their plight was highlighted in a report to Porirua City Council's Te Komiti this month.
It said Housing NZ had indicated it would not be increasing the number of state houses in Porirua, and housing stock could fall if the corporation sold some off privately.
Cannons Creek GP Bryan Betty knew of situations where two groups of an extended family lived in a single house, with multiple children sleeping in the living room.
The overcrowding was conducive to the spread of chest and skin conditions, especially in children, he said.
Available houses were often cold, damp, and poorly insulated, and some families resorted to using ovens to heat their homes.
Those with mental health conditions or in emergency housing got priority.
"If you are slightly below the top, it can be a one to two-year wait."
According to Housing NZ, Porirua and Kapiti had 46 families with "severe and persistent housing need that must be addressed immediately" while another 74 had a "significant and persistent housing need" on the waiting list.
Across Wellington, 367 families fall into the categories, against 2271 nationally.
Housing NZ asset development general manager Sean Bignell said the corporation focused on having the right type and size of housing, which meant upgrading and redeveloping existing properties.
"Simply adding more houses [in Porirua] is not the solution – we need to ensure that the state rental houses we do have in Porirua are warmer and drier to live in, and have the right number of bedrooms."
Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett said the problem was exacerbated because many existing state houses were damp and poorly insulated, putting residents at risk of serious and lifelong ailments.
He is complaining to the Ombudsman about "bungled" information from the corporation, making it impossible to grasp the extent of the problem.
Housing NZ was unable to supply details of how long families had been on waiting lists.
Mr Leggett said that since March the waiting list had shrunk only slightly and the council was requesting an urgent meeting with Housing NZ chief executive Lesley McTurk to discuss the problem.
The council had been working with Housing NZ on new state houses in the Castor Loop area of Cannons Creek but that had stopped when government funding dried up two years ago.
Housing NZ Wellington tenancy services manager Jackie Pivac said the Castor Loop project of 22 homes would be a mix of state and private rentals.
To create the space, 27 properties were demolished.
The corporation considered applicants' present living, financial situation and whether their needs could be accommodated privately when applying for a state home.
COLD, DAMP AND OVERCROWDED
A dozen members of Pula Senio's family are packed into her three-bedroom Cannons Creek state home, with seven sleeping in the combined living and dining room.
Three generations of the Tokelauan family live in the house, with a fourth generation due when Mrs Senio's son and daughter-in-law - Senio Senio and Danae Wiki - have a girl in three months' time.
The young couple have been top priority on a Housing NZ waiting list for six months, while Mrs Senio's mother, 71-year-old Makerita Leo, has been on a waiting list for two years. Sister Malia Leo and her five children have also just joined the list. For now though, they share a single home.
Ms Wiki said Housing NZ had not given her any clue whether she would have her own house when the baby came. "They just said they are going to get back to us, but they never really call us."
Her mother-in-law's cramped house was the only place they could go if Housing NZ did not help.
Mrs Senio and her husband sleep in a double bed in the living room, which they share each night with five children. On top of the overcrowding, the house was damp and cold, and the family regularly came down with flu-like illnesses, she said.
Social worker Okesene Faraimo, from Wesley Community Action, said he had five other Porirua families on his books in similar situations. Most were referred through Plunket, which had health concerns for new babies in overcrowded homes.
- The Dominion Post