The number of people on Housing New Zealand's waiting list has ballooned by more than 1000 in the past year.
Labour says the number of people currently waiting is higher than at any point in the past five years while housing advocates say the "hopeless" housing situation is growing increasingly worse for lower and even middle-income families, while the Government said there were pressures but they would ease.
Housing New Zealand figures show that at the end of March 5563 people were on on the waiting list, compared with 4495 at the same time last year and 4637 the year before.
Labour's housing spokesman Phil Twyford said it showed low income people were "really feeling the sharp end of the housing crisis" as the number of applicants soared and number of houses available dropped.
"This is an indicator of how people who are really at the bottom of the heap are getting it in the neck at the moment," he said.
"You've got a shortage of affordable houses and that's driving people into desperate situations." Many of those on the Housing New Zealand waiting list had tried and failed to get accommodation in the private market. First home buyers shut out of the market by new LVR restrictions were also taking up more space in the rental market, he said.
Housing Minister Nick Smith acknowledged there were pressures but said the numbers "are not radically different to what they have historically been".
The greatest pressures were in major centres where rents were high, particularly in Christchurch where the waiting list had doubled from 257 in March 2013 to 497 this year.
"That's where I'm most concerned about pressure," he said. Christchurch had lost significant public and private housing while demand had increased from both inflow of workers and from people requiring temporary accommodation while their home was fixed.
There was "no magic answer" to waiting lists for housing assistance, as there would always be demand for cheap rentals, Smith said. The market was cooling and the pressure would ease as more houses were built and price inflation slowed.
Tenants Protection Association manager Helen Gatonyi said the number on the waiting list showed a major need for housing assistance.
"The reality is that no amount of social housing is going to accommodate the growing need of people who are now struggling to meet and maintain tenancies in this environment."
Citizens Advice Bureau's Porirua manager Sandra Andrews said many people were frustrated by the process of getting into Housing New Zealand homes, forcing them to turn to more expensive private homes which many could barely afford.
"I think the state of some of the houses out here isn't up to scratch. I think that we definitely need more housing out here, or in other areas, and it needs to be affordable and whether that's Housing New Zealand or it's a community housing group I don't know but we need it." Fairfax NZ
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