The cost of rent is causing chronic overcrowding in Christchurch, forcing people to pack themselves into houses, garages and even garden sheds.
Latest figures from the Ministry of Social Development show the total number of people living in crowded conditions in the city increased more than 4000, to 22,000, between 2001 and 2006.
The ministry says a house is counted as being crowded if it requires one or more extra bedrooms for those living there.
There was also an increase in crowded housing in the Ashburton, Queenstown Lakes and Dunedin areas.
Community groups say those on low incomes often have to cram as many as they can into a property as they cannot afford high rents.
"It is a huge issue," said Christchurch Tenants Protection Association manager Helen Gatonyi.
"The cost of rent is an issue, as is the changing profile of the tenant. There are larger families and larger ethnic groups," she said.
"There are the other costs related to renting which have to be taken into account -- power costs, food costs. It is cheaper to live in a group than to be single."
Rent has been increasing steadily, with the average rent in Christchurch now around $150 a week for a room and more than $400 for a three-bedroom flat.
Apart from the money issues, Gatonyi said people had trouble finding properties owing to a poor record paying rent or issues such as drug abuse.
Large families of immigrants with little money also ran into problems.
"When there are cross-generational families, that is when the real problems arise," Gatonyi said.
She said the tight conditions also led to increased stress, which could be a trigger for domestic violence.
"The solution is not more housing; it is about making housing more accessible and affordable," Gatonyi said.
"It's also about the complex issues involved with these people like disengagement and being disenfranchised."
City Missioner Michael Gorman said the number of people going to the City Mission suffering from cramped housing was on the increase.
"We have a lot of people come to us who are living in garages," he said.
"We also have people who come who live in sheds that they rent for about $70 or $90 a week. What's that going to be like in the winter?"
"I know of one family of 10 who live in a three-bedroom house," Gorman said.
He said he was worried by plans by the Christchurch City Council to raise social housing rents by 24 per cent.
"People say it may only be a few dollars a week, but that makes an enormous difference when you are on benefits," he said.
"The common denominator is poverty. There does need to be more affordable property to provide somewhere to live for those who have a very low income."
Council city housing manager Kevin Bennett acknowledged there was a problem.
"We know there is an issue out there in terms of overcrowding," he said.
The council would refer families who go to it for help to Housing New Zealand, which tries to find them a property.
"Usually it is to do with money or they have been in a situation where they need some family support and so they move in together," Bennett said yesterday.
- The Press
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