The waiting list for state housing in New Zealand has hit a record high as the government struggles to cope with the booming number of homeless people.
Two years ago the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, was elected on a promise that she would “fix” the housing crisis, but under her watch the wait has ballooned from 6,000 to 14,500 households.
Community housing providers said they were at their wits’ end trying to look after vulnerable people, many of whom sleep in cars, parks and tents. In recent years homeless people have died on the streets during long, cold winters.
“The bottom line is sadly we don’t have any strategic housing plan as a country, there’s no strategic plan in terms of making a difference,” said Bernie Smith, the chief executive officer of Monte Cecilia Housing Trust, which houses homeless families in south Auckland.
“There’s a hell of a lot of money going into motels and transitional housing, but very little going into building homes.”
The highest demand for a state house was in Auckland, with more than 5,000 families waiting, followed by Wellington and Waikato.
The opposition National party said the government should be “ashamed” that tens of thousands of Kiwis were without a home.
“Such a sharp increase in just two short years can only be explained by poor government policy,” said Simon O’Connor, the National party’s housing spokesman. “Labour was too quick to meddle in the rental market when it should have been focused on building houses.
“The reason we’re in this mess today is because KiwiBuild tanked, Labour’s new rental standards scared off landlords at the affordable end of the market, and its decision to end tenancy reviews increased pressure on social housing supply.
“New Zealanders want housing solutions, but all they’re getting from this government is excuses.”
The government said its open and empathetic approach to leadership had led to thousands asking for help, hence the boost in demand – a position supported by the chief executive of Community Housing Aotearoa, Scott Figenshow.
“The government have created a culture where it is OK for people to be coming forward with their housing needs, so the fact the registry is increasing means that as a country we are doing a better job at documenting the needs,” said Figenshow.
New Zealand needed to take a “human rights approach” to housing and the increasing cost of rent, near stagnant wages and other financial pressures such as the newly introduced petrol tax meant increasingly New Zealanders new homeless were employed and productive but still unable to afford a roof over their heads.
“The most important thing Jacinda has tried to do is put the fact that a right for housing is something we should strive for right back at the centre of things,” Figenshow said.
“For so long under National it was punitive: ‘If you’re not housed its your fault.’ Now the government is working very hard to change that, but it takes time for that to flow down to people in severe hardship. But there’s definitely some positive signs.”
The associate minister for housing, Kris Faafoi, said that in two years the government had delivered 3,300 public housing places, with another 2,500 places under construction which are expected to be delivered “by the middle of this year”.
Close to NZ$200m was earmarked to address “chronic homelessness” in last year’s wellbeing budget.
“Homelessness is a complex and growing problem,” he said. “Ending homelessness is a priority for the government. Every New Zealander has a right to a warm, dry, secure and safe place to live.”