Car replaces garage 'home'
Nikolai and Irina Zvyagin have spent their last night huddled together on a single camp stretcher in a garage.
But today they will not be in a house.
Instead, the Russian couple say they face sleeping in their small hatchback car, or pitching a tent in a park near a toilet.
Seventy-one Housing New Zealand applications still sit between the Zvyagins and a new home.
The 67-year-old president of the Russia-New Zealand Friendship Society and his 68-year-old wife are two of 272 Cantabrians on Housing New Zealand's priority A waiting list - a number that has increased by 100 people since December.
The number has been met with Government assurances that the severity of the social housing situation is being "overstated".
The Zvyagins were given until yesterday to leave Oxana Pyntya's cramped, dust-filled garage. The Russian couple had been living with the Pyntya family until HNZ threatened to revoke her contract.
"We will have to sleep in our car," Nikolai said through a translator. "Or pitch a tent in a city park, near a toilet."
"At this moment, our car is our home," Irina said.
The couple moved into the Pyntya family's two-bedroom HNZ property in Shirley late last year. Then the birth of the family's third child forced the Russians into the garage.
They shared a single stretcher, but on particularly cold nights Irina slept in their car. As the nights got colder and their health worsened, the couple wrote letters to officials pleading for help.
Relying on disability benefits and their Russian pension, they live on a combined income of about $350 a week.
"Mildly speaking, when it got colder it became much worse," Nikolai said. "But I am sure there are lots of other people like us."
The Zvyagins moved to New Zealand to be closer to their daughter eight years ago, initially living a comfortable life.
Nikolai, a former Russian physicist, picked up various construction and cleaning jobs. Irina worked as a groomer for Red Bus, but was made redundant after the earthquakes. After the small amount of money they had saved ran out on their rent, the couple returned to Russia for six months.
"It is not so easy to live over there either," Nikolai said.
"Before we came back from Russia and couldn't find anywhere to live, we loved New Zealand very much."
While bad arthritis and treatment for skin cancer has rendered Irina unable to work, Nikolai has been seeking work, but said no-one would hire him because of his age.
Following inquiries from The Press, HNZ offered to allow the couple to stay in the garage. But in return they would be removed from the priority A waiting list. The offer was refused.
The couple said they are "very sad" and "not comfortable", and have nowhere to go.
Housing New Zealand regional manager southern Symon Leggett said the Zvyagins had "high priority" for housing, and they had spoken to them about other options.
"There are currently 71 applicants on the priority waiting list that have been assessed as having a higher priority."
HNZ could not identify a reason for the leap in priority A applicants.
"The waiting list is not static, there are always peaks and flows," Leggett said.