Explainer: $5000 relocation grants for homeless Aucklanders

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett says she wants to "open up the choice" for Aucklanders who are able to leave the city.
MONIQUE FORD / Fairfax NZ

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett says she wants to "open up the choice" for Aucklanders who are able to leave the city.

As the Government faces criticism for failing to tackle the housing crisis, Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett has announced a scheme to pay homeless Aucklanders as much as $5000 to relocate elsewhere in New Zealand.

So how exactly will it work, and will it make a difference? We lay it out for you.

So is a government official wandering around Auckland, writing cheques to the homeless?

It's a little more complex than that.

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I'm listening.

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett has announced a scheme to give homeless Aucklanders, or those in the city's state houses, a payment of up to $5000.

That's good of them.

There's a catch: to receive the money, the families have to leave Auckland and move to a region that has vacant Housing NZ properties, or an affordable rental property where they can live.

Like where?

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Bennett gave a shout-out to a range of potential places where Aucklanders could relocate, including Ngaruawahia, Huntly, Gisborne, Whanganui, and Lower Hutt.

What's the point of this?

There's huge demand for social housing in Auckland, where there have been reports of families sleeping in cars and garages.

Bennett says this is about "opening up the choice" to those who have the freedom to relocate, which would then free up state houses for those on the waitlist for a home in Auckland.

What if someone has a job in Auckland, or their kids are going to school there?

Bennett says the scheme is voluntary, and nobody will be forced to leave the city.

How much will this cost, and how's it being paid for?
Bennett says there's $750,000 within existing budgets to relocate 150 families (that's presuming they get the maximum $5000 payment).

Wait, this sounds familiar…

You're not wrong there - Bennett announced plans for this very scheme in January.

The only differences are the pay-out on offer - $5000 now, up from $3000 then - and the fact that homeless Aucklanders not on the social housing register will be able to apply, rather than just those in state houses.

So it's the same thing, but officially signed off by Cabinet and expanded somewhat.

So how much of a difference will it make?

There are 4585 applicants on the Ministry of Social Development's social housing register (although not all of them are in Auckland), and others off the register but without a home - so relocating 150 families will help a bit, but it's not a game-changer.

There's also going to be many people who won't want to leave their job, or pull their children out of school, so the scheme's only going to appeal to a limited number of people.

What do other people think about the idea?

Labour leader Andrew Little dismissed the announcement as "policy on the hoof", while Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei called it "another short-term housing half-measure from the Government, done more for appearance than effect".

When the idea was floated back in January, there was opposition from some of the regions named as potential relocation sites, with one mayor saying "none of us want to be seen as a dumping ground."

So what else is the Government doing to tackle the situation?

Bennett says special needs grants to help people pay for emergency housing are being brought forward to July (they were meant to start in September), meaning vulnerable Kiwis won't have to take loans from Work and Income to cover their stays.

The Ministry of Social Development is also working with NGOs on a "flying squad" to check homeless Kiwis sleeping in cars or garages, to see whether they're on.

That should help tackle the housing crisis then.

It should help, although some government ministers prefer to call it a housing "challenge".

Uh, why?

That's a whole other story...

 - Stuff

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