Hardship but no housing crisis, says Key

Prime Minister John Key has waded into the debate over whether Christchurch's housing problems stack up to a "crisis".

There was "no question" in Key's mind that the city's housing market had tightened, but he stood by Housing Minister Phil Heatley and Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee in denying the problem had escalated into a crisis. "Well, I think Gerry Brownlee is right," he said.

"It's not to say there aren't individual examples where people are in hardship. There will be, and we actively and strongly encourage them to come to the Government and we will give them support.

"Reach out to us and we will give you some help." There were about 900 properties available to rent in the city and the Government was providing temporary accommodation solutions to support displaced residents, Key said.

"It's not acceptable from the Government's point of view to have people being forced to live in cars," he said. "We are not really sure that is happening in any great numbers, but if those people came to us we would deal with that situation humanely and properly."

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples this week advised homeless people to squat in abandoned red-zone houses and said there was "no doubt in my mind" Christchurch had a housing crisis.

When Key was asked for his opinion on the situation, he backed Brownlee.

"It would be wrong of anyone to suggest people should stay in red-zoned homes because that's illegal and potentially dangerous," he said.

"There are other ways of fixing the problem, but squatting in the red-zone isn't one of them."

Key believed Sharples was "genuinely trying to provide a bit of support" to people facing difficult circumstances, but he could not have Cabinet ministers "suggesting we break the law".

Te Tai Tonga Labour MP Rino Tirikatene was "astounded" by Sharples' "half-baked" suggestion.

"Will he foot the funeral bill when a condemned house collapses on a family who've taken this advice and sought shelter in less than satisfactory accommodation?" he said.

"If you're going to tell someone to squat for better living conditions, why limit them to red-zoned houses?

"He should've told them to move into Gerry Brownlee's house. Pretty sure Pita would hear from Gerry then," Tirikatene said.

Sharples yesterday tried to get hold of Brownlee to apologise for his comments.

"I tried to get hold of minister Brownlee to apologise because I was in my capacity as a minister when I made it and I made it at the hui and because someone's picked it up," he said.

Although he disagreed with the way his comments had been "conveyed", and said he had not suggested people move into "unsafe houses", he stood by his belief that it was better to squat in the red zone than die in cars.

"I stand [by it] that it's the ethical and moral thing – really about people."

Sharples said he had workers on the ground in Christchurch who were looking for "people who are in a homeless situation", and the cases they had been reporting were "shocking considering the temperature down there".

The Press