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Why are we only seeing Band-Aid responses to the deepening housing shortage?

New Zealand’s housing crisis appears to be worsening with escalating need as well as wide concern by housing agencies and the Government alike, says Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

Many children in families who have been living in their cars over summer are facing the possibility of increased ill health, and more days off school if they are not urgently housed in time for winter. Those with chronic respiratory illnesses will face multiple hospitalisations.

It’s pleasing that the new Social Housing Minister Amy Adams has acknowledged the growing unmet housing need, but to date there has been little evidence of the 'comprehensive social housing plan' which Minister Adams referred to, as the Government continues with its gradual privatisation of state housing.

Promises of a few hundred additional social housing units in a few years time have been vague at best. Continuing to pay out more emergency housing grants is a desperate measure, but a necessary one in lieu of a failure to produce any meaningful solution. 

Last year John Key said he would be “amazed" if WINZ could not immediately house people living in cars - it would be interesting to hear if the new Prime Minister Bill English shares the same view, when the number of households on the social housing register has increased. At December 2016 the total was 4771 - 3189 deemed having "severe and persistent housing need”. This includes a greater number of single-parent families with children.

The “Priority A” numbers have risen almost 49% compared with the same period of the year before.

Frank Hogan, Housing Spokesperson for CPAG says those numbers should be used as a barometer to define progress.

“What is the specific response of the Minister and the Government to this eye-watering statistic?” said Mr Hogan.

“The number experiencing severe and persistent need is the benchmark against which all Government efforts are assessed - is that barometer going up or down?

“Clearly we are not building houses fast enough. Meanwhile we are have speculators who  willfully leave homes empty - it is high time we had regulations to ensure that houses are being tenanted instead of empty vessels for profiteering.”

CPAG co-convenor Alan Johnson says that the social housing waiting list is likely just a “tip of the iceberg” of unmet housing need.

“The application process itself is unnecessarily complex and appears designed to discourage people from applying. It’s likely that many of the ‘hidden homeless’ aren’t even on the list,” says Mr Johnson.

The shortage of affordable safe and secure rental accommodation across many cities in New Zealand was “absolutely predictable", according to Johnson, given the continued record immigration levels, a building industry woefully short of skilled labour and tax policy which rewards property speculation.

CPAG says the Government should develop for immediate implementation a 10-year plan for affordable housing, and reverse its current sell-off policy. It must commit a substantial amount of funding toward social housing and other affordable housing options in 2017 Budget and beyond.