Christchurch people in dire need of homes

DERELICT HOUSING: A Housing New Zealand home that cannot be occupied.
DERELICT HOUSING: A Housing New Zealand home that cannot be occupied.

The number of people with dire needs on Housing New Zealand's waiting list has tripled since the earthquakes.

About 150 people are currently classified as "at risk", or priority A, on Canterbury's HNZ waiting list.

Last month, this reached 176.

Yet, in 2010, HNZ would rarely have seen 50 people on this list.

Priority A means the applicant is "at risk". Their housing need is severe and immediate.

These are the people living in cars, garages, tents or overcrowding homes, HNZ tenancy services area manager Robin Mason said.

These people are deemed to be at risk in all five of HNZ's assessment criteria.

Domestic violence, the safety of children and sleeping rough are all common issues among priority A candidates, Mason said.

"They are usually either homeless or have been told they need to vacate their current property within seven days."

Nellie Hunt, whose plight was highlighted by The Press this week, was listed as No 40 on the priority A waiting list while she slept in a tent in Waltham Park with her children.

Hunt has since found a home.

Another solo mum with three children, who was also deemed priority A, was recently housed by HNZ - just one day before she was due to be evicted and left on the streets.

As of Monday, 148 people were deemed priority A in Canterbury and 269 were classified as priority B.

Priority B means the applicant has a "serious housing need".

People on the priority A list are usually housed in about 43 days and priority B within 62 days.

"If we could find a house for everyone on the waiting list tomorrow we would do so, but we are just not in a position to do that.

"We have got people on the waiting list who wouldn't have been there at all pre-earthquake and that's really hard for people," Mason said.

Christchurch's three-strong HNZ tenancy team each handle about five applications daily.

Last week, the team housed 15 families.

People's needs are assessed using five criteria: affordability, adequacy, suitability, accessibility and sustainability.
Those with the highest needs are prioritised and when suitable homes become available, the most desperate are contacted first.

"The extent to which people are without housing would never be what it is if we hadn't lost so many houses," Mason said.

HNZ has 6127 homes across Canterbury and 95 per cent of its stock suffered some form of damage in the earthquakes, with 550 houses wiped out.

HNZ was doing "everything we can possibly do" to house desperate families, including encouraging 68 Christchurch applicants to move to other areas around the South Island, he said.

Some homes are being repaired with tenants still living in them and the homes that do become available are being re-occupied within a week.

Housing Minister Nick Smith said the increase in the priority A waiting list was "not surprising given the amount of housing that has been lost in the quakes".

Three factors were "hammering" Christchurch's housing market:

The 14,000 homes that had been lost overall in the quakes.

The 60,000 homes that had been damaged to the point where they needed to be vacated for repairs.

30,000 workers flooding the city for the rebuild.

"The combination of those three factors is making Christchurch's housing situation very challenging."

And there was no "simple magic bullet" solution, he said.

"We have to do a whole lot of things to prevent crisis situations like those facing Nellie Hunt."

Speeding up building consents was one way forward and the additional 700 homes that were due to be added to HNZ's stock would also help, but the minister was now exploring the possibility of building two additional temporary accommodation villages.

The villages would house earthquake-affected families while their own homes were repaired.

Once the rebuild was complete, the Government would sell the villages into the private market to increase the level of affordable housing in Christchurch, he said.

The Press