Some Pacific Islanders in Tauranga are living in houses packed with up to 15 people, creating ideal environments for transmittable diseases like rheumatic fever to thrive, a community leader says.
Sinafoni Tafuna, of the Pacific Island Community Trust Tauranga, said overcrowding was the main issue facing Pacific Islanders in Tauranga and elsewhere in the Western Bay.
His comments follow the Cross-Party Homelessness Inquiry run by Labour, Greens, and the Maori Party that was held in Tauranga on Monday this week. At the inquiry, submitters spoke of children and adults suffering from Third World diseases from overcrowding and the other impacts Tauranga's housing problems had on their lives.
Mr Tafuna said he knew of a home in Maketu housing five families from Kiribati, and other houses in Tauranga and Mount Maunganui with two or three families bunking together.
"There are between 12 and 15 people living in these houses - three or four bedroom houses."
Mr Tafuna said sicknesses were spreading in overcrowded houses.
"There's a family in Mount Maunganui, two of them have rheumatic fever and also, one of their neighbours have rheumatic fever as well.
"There are children with rheumatic fever symptoms . . . I think that is from overcrowding."
Mr Tafuna spent a lot of his time helping people fill out rental application forms online.
Dan Lusby, owner of Tauranga Rentals, said a shortage of lower-priced rentals in the market meant these homes were snapped up quickly. Because the agency had numerous applications on file, many properties were not advertised.
Ministry of Social Development deputy chief executive of social housing Nic Blakeley said Work and Income could help in many ways, such as providing budgeting advice and helping with rent arrears, helping paying rent in advance and bonds for private rentals, and by helping with moving costs.
Mr Blakeley said families with children suffering from, or at risk of, rheumatic fever needed to talk to the ministry and, with medical evidence, these families would receive a higher priority rating.
He said the ministry had seen a rise in demand for social housing both nationally and in the Bay of Plenty.
The housing crisis was forcing more Pacific families to live in unhealthy overcrowded conditions and creating third world diseases which were putting babies lives at risk, said Labour's Pasifika spokesperson Su'a William Sio in a written statement this afternoon.
"Living together used to be a temporary measure for many Pacific families looking for jobs and homes.
"But the housing crisis is forcing more Pacific families together, creating overcrowded living conditions. Tragically, this is becoming the norm and leading to reports of families suffering from rheumatic fever, skin rashes, colds and pneumonia."
"This should not happen in New Zealand, a wealthy developed country where we look after each other. Right now 42,000 children are hospitalised each year because of cold, mouldy and damp homes, and tragically 15 of them will die."
If any family, including Pacific families, was struggling, it was important they contact the Ministry of Social Development so frontline staff in the area can help, he said.