Urgent waiting list for state housing grows

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 05:00 10/04/2014

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Hundreds of Cantabrians in urgent need of state housing are still no closer to securing a home before winter hits as Housing New Zealand's (HNZ) waiting list continues to climb.

The number of families on HNZ's "priority A" waiting list has grown by almost 100 since December 2013, despite promises from the Government that action would be taken to help those in dire need.

Priority A means applicants are in severe and immediate need of state housing, with many living in cars, garages or overcrowded homes while they wait for assistance.

As of last month, HNZ had 495 people on its waiting list in Christchurch, with more than half (272) deemed priority A.

HNZ southern region manager Symon Leggett said staff were working closely with applicants to assess their needs and would sometimes look at options outside Christchurch if appropriate.

Six Christchurch families had recently been rehoused in Ashburton, along with six in Timaru, one in Oamaru, eight in Dunedin and four in Invercargill.

Leggett said HNZ was not an emergency housing provider, but worked closely with those who did provide such accommodation.

HNZ had 342 new properties contracted or under construction in the city, and had returned 270 quake-damaged homes back to the letting pool.

All of the repaired homes had already been let to applicants from the waiting list.

Housing Minister Nick Smith promised the Government would take urgent action when the priority A waiting list hit 175 in December last year.

At the time, Smith said speeding up building consents and adding another 700 homes to HNZ's stock would help, and he planned to explore the possibility of building another two temporary accommodation villages in the city.

Smith could not be reached for comment yesterday, but said earlier this week there was "no magic answer" to reducing waiting lists, but he expected the "pressure" would ease as more houses were built and price inflation slowed.

Christchurch East MP Poto Williams said at-risk families were still no closer to securing state housing, despite approaching the fourth winter since Canterbury's earthquakes.

"I'd been assured they were fast-tracking [repairs], but there doesn't seem to be a lot of action," she said.

Williams said it was "shameful" that Smith refused to recognise Canterbury was in the midst of a housing crisis.

She said the Government was putting resources into anchor projects while people slept in cars, tents or overcrowded houses.

The Government urgently needed to build more homes to reduce rents and "restore confidence" in the housing market, she said.

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Christchurch Deputy Mayor Vicki Buck said Christchurch lost about 11,000 homes in the quakes and was experiencing increasing demand for accommodation from those whose homes were being repaired as well an influx of rebuild workers.

"We have a real shortage of rental housing to the point where there are kids living in just awful places.

"I certainly don't expect it to be happening in Christchurch; it's just not tolerable."

Buck had spent the last three months working on solutions for the city's housing crisis and expected to present a "major proposal" to the council within the next month.

She would not confirm details of the plan, but said it would require full public consultation and involved "doing things differently".

Christchurch needed good quality, warm and dry housing that would last for decades to come. Pre-fabricated housing was "one of the very real possibilities", she said.

"We're just looking at a range of quite major options. Whatever we do, we'd like to do it in conjunction with the private sector."

- The Press

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