Quake-hit families still living in squalor

Last updated 05:00 29/01/2013

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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Horror stories of Christchurch families living in garages and tents continue to surface almost two years after the February 2011 earthquake.

Some families are still stranded in sheds or illegally overcrowding friends' and relatives' houses.

Meanwhile, rental housing prices show no sign of abating, and welfare agencies believe this year could be worse than 2012.

Demand on Christchurch's social services continues to increase. People who have never needed help before are queuing up at food banks, and many families still face impoverished living conditions.

City Missioner Michael Gorman said the unprecedented demand for the mission's alcohol and drug services, food bank and night shelters "has not eased at all".

"There is a lot more money going into rent and a lot less money going into living."

The number of people approaching the mission suffering from poverty or mental health issues was rampant, he said.

One of his social workers had a week-long waiting list of families needing assistance with school uniform grants. Another had recently been supporting a young family living in a tent and a couple renting a washhouse.

A desperate woman with a newborn baby emailed Gorman last week asking for any free food because she was "paying so much rent I can't afford to live".

"We are seeing many, many new people - some who may actually own property but are so stretched by having to be out of their houses and pay horrific rents," he said.

Pacific Island Evaluation social worker To'alepai Louella Thomsen-Inder said she was growing tired of "fighting day and night" for her clients.

Before Christmas she dropped food parcels off to 10 struggling families and said she could "smell the poverty as I walked in the door".

"I saw the reality. Some people had just a twig in a corner for a Christmas tree," she said.

"Some homes have no curtains, babies are crawling around on rotting carpet, it's damp and the children are running around with no shoes on and with visible skin conditions."

Tenants Protection Association manager Helen Gatonyi said this year was "shaping up to be the worst".

"When winter strikes this year, we predict it's going to be very difficult for a large number of people."

Some owners had been renting out cramped, damp three-bedroom homes for more than $500 a week, she said.

"The behaviour of some landlords is totally unacceptable. They are renting homes for an arm and a leg, knowing there will be a queue of people lining up to view the place."

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Gatonyi is calling for a warrant of fitness and code of practice to be placed on Christchurch rental properties and said the association was about to launch an inquiry into the living conditions of tenants in the city.

The Government's investigation into overcrowding, homelessness and unsuitable living conditions in Christchurch was kickstarted last June, but the results have yet to be released.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment had hoped to have the report completed by the end of last year.

A spokeswoman said the release had been pushed back to ensure the information was correct and the report "robust".

Recent ministry figures show rents rose between 7 and 21 per cent in Christchurch last year, depending on the suburb.

- The Press


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