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Ministerial housing announcement underwhelming

Hon Paula Bennett, Minister of Social Housing, made an announcement recently that 51 new transitional homes will be provided for families in need of housing. While this is a welcome response to the ever increasing problem of homelessness for our most vulnerable citizens – namely the children of families living in poverty – it is largely underwhelming.

The true perspective for this response is to measure it against monitored and proven housing needs as assessed on the Government’s own social housing register.  

The Priority A list of this register (kept by the Ministry of Social Development) records those families classified as having “a severe and persistent housing need that must be addressed immediately”.

The latest figures (30 June 2016) reveal a 13% increase in qualifying families in the March to June quarter.  The increase was 294 families bringing the total up to 2482 families.  

The provision of 51 new houses would meet approximately 20% (that is, one family in five) of the increase in need that the latest figures confirm. It does nothing to diminish the solid core of severe and persistent housing needs.

To even halve the number of families on the Priority A list – 2482 down to 1241 – in one year would require the Minister to repeat her recent announcement twice a month, every month, for the next 12. We should not hold our breath.

Priority A list is a specific, monitored statistic. The Government appears keen on achieving targeted reductions for some laudable schemes. Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) urges that the targeted reduction of Priority A list “numbers” be adopted as a totally worthy and specific goal.  

Until then the harsh, but fair reality is that the Government’s response is underwhelming in its modesty.  No amount of fanfare will displace the daily reality of overcrowding, insecurity and diminished outcomes for our most vulnerable children.