High rent pushes families into boarding houses

BRONWYN TORRIE
Last updated 05:00 05/09/2012

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A new homeless class is emerging in Wellington, but they're not sleeping rough on the streets - they're paying to rent rooms in boarding houses.

Families were increasingly turning to shared accommodation options, which have private sleeping but shared living and bathroom facilities, because of a lack of affordable housing in the city, Wellington Regional Public Health adviser Clare Aspinall said.

She presented preliminary findings of an 18-month study at the Public Health Association conference in the capital yesterday.

"In the Wellington area, there are definitely children and young people under the age of 25 living in boarding houses," she said. "For some families, they are living there long-term."

People living in temporary accommodation such as boarding houses are considered homeless, according to Statistics New Zealand.

The sometimes squalid conditions were not ideal places to raise children, or for young people to be living on their own, Ms Aspinall said.

"Some of the anti-social behaviour that was discussed was high alcohol use, sharing accommodation with people who have come out of prison . . . they're not necessarily environments that you would want someone who was 17 or 18 living in."

Parents were unable to control who was living in the rooms next door, or socialising with their children in communal areas.

"There's lots of people coming and going and I could literally walk up to one of the bathrooms without any one asking me who I was."

In the course of her research, she spoke to nine people including boarders, health workers, landlords or managers to find out who was living in boarding houses and the issues they faced.

She was prompted to do it as part of her masters in public health after growing concern among colleagues about people with health and/or disability problems, living in boarding houses in the region.

What emerged was a situation where families were turning to boarding houses, which were traditionally places for single adults.

She found they were charging between $80 and $140 per week for a single person and between $280 and $320 for a family. "So they're not the cheapest option, necessarily."

Ms Aspinall called for boarding houses to be licensed and inspected annually by councils to ensure people were not forced to live in unsafe conditions.

Wellington Housing Trust director Alison Cadman said affordable housing stock was decreasing due to Housing New Zealand decommissioning accommodation and Wellington City Council upgrading flats.

"We're finding that there's a lot more families living together and that they are having to find other options like boarding houses or temporary accommodation of some kind."

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She said "secondary homelessness" was increasing in the capital.

"Most people, when they think about homelessness they think people sleeping on the street, but increasingly there are problems with secondary homelessness - two families or more living together in one house or people couch surfing . . . it's invisible, really."

The trust has 26 properties, ranging from apartment units to houses, that are rented at 70 per cent or less of market value.

Meanwhile, the cost to the country of 200,000 children living in poverty was estimated at $8.8 billion per year, independent researcher John Pearce told conference delegates yesterday.

Key social and policy changes, including a tax-system review to reduce inequalities, reducing housing costs and creating sustainable jobs would reduce child poverty and its cost to the taxpayer by 75 per cent, he said.

“Child poverty has an even greater impact on our GDP and national productivity than global warming, and for every child that is neglected or abused, there are five who live in poverty.”

- The Dominion Post

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