Housing shortage forces women back to abuse

The Waikato Women's Refuge is urging landlords and home owners to set aside properties for women in crisis.
DOMINICO ZAPATA/FAIRFAX NZ

The Waikato Women's Refuge is urging landlords and home owners to set aside properties for women in crisis.

More women are returning to abusive relationships because of a worsening housing shortage in Hamilton, Waikato Women's Refuge say.

"If they can't make a break and make a change, it's inevitable - they go back," refuge co-founder and chief executive Ruahine Albert said.

Securing safe and affordable homes in Hamilton was hard in the present market, she said.  

Local government minister Anne Tolley says they have increased funding for women's refuge.
CHRIS SKELTON/FAIRFAX NZ

Local government minister Anne Tolley says they have increased funding for women's refuge.

 A 10-week stay in a safe house was once normal, but now some women must stay six to 10 months before finding a new home. 

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 "When you wait around for nine or ten months and you can't move, by that time he's usually found you anyway," she said.

Full houses have meant the refuge can't help as many women.   

They comfortably fit 60-65 women and children across five safe houses, but they're currently pushing 72, with families and women sharing rooms. 

Lodge Real Estate's vacancy rate in Hamilton is under one percent.

Managing director Jeremy O'Rourke said loan restrictions implemented by Reserve Bank have made it harder for people to invest in property, resulting in fewer rentals.  

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"That to a large degree has throttled many investors," O'Rourke said.  

"We can only see it getting worse."

With so many people looking for a roof over their heads, landlords have no need to take risks on tenants.

They are fearful of their properties getting damaged by the partners and the kids, Albert said.

 "What happens is women are desperate to get into their own homes and so they take the really expensive properties … but they get into debt."

The refuge is urging landlords and home owners to set aside properties for women in crisis, subject to a six-month trial period.  

Albert said the refuge has an operating cost of $2.2 million each year with their crisis service operating 24/7. About $1.4 million of that is funded by the Government.

Social development minister, Anne Tolley, was unavailable for an interview but in a written statement she said it was a concern that so many were seeking help.

She said they take the issue of abuse seriously and had increased funding for Women's Refuge by 33 per cent since 2008.

"MSD is supporting providers, including Women's Refuge, with rental subsidies and funding for tenancy management and support services to help move those in need into sustainable accommodation," Tolley said.

Labour MP and spokesperson for women's affairs, Ruth Dyson, said building state houses has solved a housing crisis before and can again.   

"We need to have more affordable houses for people to buy," Dyson said.  

"The government is saying that we don't have a housing crisis and yet we have people who are given no support in order to leave a violent relationship because of the housing crisis.

"I don't know how it can get much worse than that." 

 If you need help from Waikato Women's Refuge, call 07 855 1569.

 - Stuff

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