Govt to look at Chch housing problem

OLIVIA CARVILLE
Last updated 05:00 18/06/2012

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An investigation into overcrowding, homelessness and unsuitable living conditions in Christchurch has been kick-started by a government department.

The Department of Building and Housing has confirmed a research project is under way to "better understand the scope and scale of overcrowding and homelessness in Christchurch" as a result of the earthquakes.

A staff member was seconded into the role two weeks ago and would compile a report to help the department "identify the appropriate policy response", a spokeswoman said.

The new research project has met with unanimous support from government officials and welfare agencies in Christchurch.

Salvation Army major Mike Allwright was confident the project would shed some light on "major issues in this city which will leave it hard to deny there is no problem here".

City Missioner Michael Gorman said the research would finally provide "clear certainty to what the reality is for people out there".

He hoped the research would cover all of the "very broad" housing issues gripping the city.

Problems included people living in cars and sleeping between sand dunes on beaches, and families struggling with unaffordable rent rises, he said.

Tenants Protection Association manager Helen Gatonyi said it was a relief the Government was "finally taking housing seriously".

She believed it was a "responsible step for the department to take" and hoped the researcher would work alongside and listen to the agencies which had already identified the problem.

She hoped "undeniable, comprehensive and qualitative evidence" of the city's housing problems would be gathered during the investigation.

Labour's Canterbury earthquake recovery spokeswoman, Lianne Dalziel, was thankful "at least one arm of the government has recognised this is something that must be researched".

More than a year ago she submitted a memorandum to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority highlighting the immediate needs of residents in the east.

She felt Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee had "completely understated the housing problem".

"Obviously we have a problem here and I can't understand why the minister continues to ignore it. He is in denial about the issue and has been right from the outset," she said.

"I have felt like I have been banging my head against a brick wall for a year now," she said.

Despite Brownlee being "wilfully blind" to the problem, Dalziel said the department's initiative was "better late than never and warmly welcomed".

She was "absolutely sure" the research would discover a big problem in Christchurch which would be impossible to deny.

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Brownlee agreed the project was "great" and said obtaining factual information on the issue would be "good for everyone".

"I've always acknowledged there will be housing difficulties for some people but I think if you compare Christchurch to the recent earthquake in Italy ... we do not have a housing crisis, we have some housing difficulties for some people," he said.

"Getting factual information about the situation can only be valuable," Brownlee said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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