Meeting hears of housing struggle (+video)

By Roger Moroney

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A meeting to create the first steps in trying to deal with Napier's growing number of people struggling to find somewhere for their families to live was held in Maraenui yesterday.

Along with a determination among those who turned up at the special hui to address housing issues there were also tears - as some of the stories of their struggles unfolded.

The gathering was organised by Meka Whaitiri, Labour MP for Ikaroa-Rawhiti, who said she did so as a growing number of high needs constituents had emerged over recent weeks to raise their concerns and desperation in being unable to find somewhere to live. Many were in overcrowded situations while others were put up in motels.

Some had also been forced to live in cars, with one woman having been in that situation up until two months ago - the car was "home" to her and her children aged 1, 4 and 6.

They had then begun boarding at a Housing New Zealand property which was rented to a family of four, and she was worried they may be asked to move out as it could be classed as overcrowding.

There were too many desperate stories and Maori were at the "sharp end" of the housing crisis, Ms Whaitiri said.

It was the most over-riding issue she was confronted with in terms of calls to her electorate offices - about 90 per cent were from families in dire straits when it came to somewhere to live.

At yesterday's gathering she spoke of how she wanted to meet and speak with locals and come up with an initial draft plan of how to go about tackling a serious problem made more serious as government appeared to have "no plan" to address it.

Napier is fifth on the list of centres on the housing shortage list.

"Hawke's Bay is the land I grew up in and is considered a land of plenty - but we have people sleeping in cars," she said.

While several were critical of the way Housing New Zealand and the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) were going about things Ms Whaitiri said they were doing what they could under the governmental guidelines.

One of the points which later made the "what can we do?" list was creating some policy changes within MSD as well as a better re-integration of the agencies people were required to work through.

"We see and hear about homelessness in Auckland but it is everywhere," Ms Whaitiri said.

Among the gathering, which included representatives of local council, Maraenui service groups and Maori Wardens, was co-founder of Limitless Hope Kiri Swannell.

"We are fighting for the next generation," she said.

If things did not change people would end up being "taught" how to live in cars or on beaches.

One woman told the gathering she felt harassed because she had been subjected to ongoing reviews of her living situation and she feared she would soon be moved on "again".

Another said she had grown up in Maraenui through four to five generations and there had been little change.

Ms Whaitiri said the claims of earthquake risk along with houses being made unavailable due to P contamination were in many cases "just fibs".

"I worry about some of the reasons given for why they are empty."

Napier MP Stuart Nash agreed and said it had been shown that the manufacture of P would result in serious contamination but houses where it may have been smoked would only require general cleaning.

Several locals then offered to get out and do the cleaning themselves to get such homes opened up again.

Napier City Councillor and secretary of the Tu Tangata Maraenui Trust Maxine Boag said the Maraenui community had been disrupted by the endless waiting for housing to "happen again".

First steps:

* Changes need to be made regarding some of the Ministry of Social Development policies.

* Agencies dealing with people seeking a home (MSD, HNZ and WINZ) needed to be strongly re-integrated to make processes easier

* Maraenui needs its own specific housing case manager

* There needs to be an availability of emergency housing

* Public volunteers could clean low-contamination affected homes which otherwise stay vacant

- Hawkes Bay Today

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