Napier's long social housing waitlist - the highest per capita

A two-month tiny homes expo in Motueka is designed to raise awareness and lower barriers to getting more people into affordable housing. Video first published in February, 2021.

It has a reputation as the world's Art Deco Capital, but go beyond its polished image and pristine, pastel-coloured buildings and you’ll find something darker.

Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise has welcomed the latest Government announcement outlining their steps to tackle the housing crisis.

But her city has the biggest housing waitlist, by capita, in the country, so words need to lead to work. And soon.

On State Highway 51 heading on to Napier's Marine Parade, a sleeping bag and a folded piece of tarpaulin are tucked beneath a bush in the reserve near the ocean.

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Further, towards Clive, a car sits on the side of the road near the railway tracks. The back seat is filled with clothes, baskets and sleeping bags, while litter dusts the outside of the car.

The owners, only a few hundred metres from each other, are most likely part of Napier’s wait list for social housing.

Ministry for Social Development statistics show there are 741 people on that list.

A woman who only wished to be identified as Rochelle said she had been on the waiting list since 2019.

The mum of five originally moved down from Northland and lived in transitional housing. She now lived with a family member in Napier and was calling motels every week and applying "for every rental" possible, even the ones she couldn't afford.

“It's because I have five kids,” she said. “No one wants to rent a house out to someone with five kids.”

Phil Ross, Acting General Manager of Whatever It Takes Trust (WIT), ​ said when it came to housing there was “no product, no land and no builders”.

A police officer in Napier talks to a member of the homeless community.
John Cowpland/Stuff
A police officer in Napier talks to a member of the homeless community.

WIT is a peer support service organisation for people with mental health issues living in Hawke’s Bay.

“On top of that we had the Napier floods, which saw a lot of people lose their homes and were placed into motels. That really didn't help the situation.

“There were 100 houses that were out of action for a while, and one of our sites where we care for a group of gentleman 24/7 got flooded out, and they've only just started to fix it now. That was more than four months ago.”

Ross said movement was “starting to happen" in terms of placing people into homes, but it was slow.

New Zealand economist Cameron Bagrie​​, who spoke to Stuff earlier this year, was shocked to learn how many people across Hawke's Bay were living in motel accommodation.

Beyond Napier's famous Art Deco image, the city is facing a darker problem.
Beyond Napier's famous Art Deco image, the city is facing a darker problem.

Bagrie spoke with Hastings mayor Sandra Hazlehurst​​ in November. She told him between 1500 and 1700​ people were living in motels across Hawke's Bay.

“If you work that out, that’s more than one per cent of your resident population in a motel; to me that’s a disgrace, he said.

Wise said the housing shortage affected the entire Hawke’s Bay region.

“I look forward to a closer working partnership with the Government and other local agencies to make a positive impact for our community," she said.

Napier was one of nine focus areas for the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

A HUD spokesperson said Napier had some of the highest housing needs in relation to population size, and the numbers had increased nine per cent between 2013 and 2018.

Population growth had outpaced construction and insufficient supply had resulted in a growing shortage of housing. There were also high levels of rental stress, particularly for low-income households.

HUD planned to deliver about 240 additional public houses by 2024, he said.