Taxpayer funds are sustaining flea ridden, unsafe and dirty accommodation through welfare payments, an inquiry into boarding housing in New Zealand was told today.
Parliament's social services select committee agreed to hold the inquiry after lobbying by The Coalition to End Homelessness, which is made up of a number of social agencies.
MPs were told this morning about dirty rooms housing families where children had to share toilet facilities with residents who suffered mental and drug problems.
One advocate said that he got fleas and bedbug bites on his legs on visits to boarding houses.
Coalition member and Monte Cecilia Housing Trust executive David Zussman, whose organisation offers housing services in poorer areas of Auckland, said many people were forced into living in boarding homes often in cramped, unheated rooms in a noisy and insecure environment.
It cost about $190 a week for a cheaper room, and that was generally paid out of an accommodation supplement.
"I think we have to ask the question what are we paying for? There's a question 'is it the Government's responsibility?'. Well, it's a matter we can exert some influence over...
"We are investing public money into maintaining standards of accommodation that frankly are just appalling and are to me are unacceptable and should not be acceptable in New Zealand."
Mr Zussman said bonds and deposits paid by Work and Income New Zealand (Winz) were contributing to a cycle of homelessness.
"Tenants are not able to secure further advances to help pay for a bond or rent advance that may be needed to access a private rental property."
There were problems with deposits and bonds not being returned and families became trapped.
"There are inconsistent practices by government agencies. Winz will pay a bond for a boarding house but Child Youth and Family may take action to uplift children because of the inappropriate housing situation."
Many struggling people were living in caravan parks and some boarding houses were adding caravans to their sites.
Members of the coalition described some boarding houses as death traps with inadequate fire exits, "filthy and squalid conditions" and an inappropriate mix of people.
Rents could hit $300 for the substandard accommodation and residents were evicted at the whim of landlords.
Pressure on housing was growing and more and more people were resorting to boarding houses.
However, the nicer boarding homes were discriminating against beneficiaries, coalition members said. Boarding houses were run to make money, often several in the hands of one landlord.
Stephanie McIntyre, director of Downtown Community Ministry, said the worst boarding house operators in Wellington were the type who also owned dairies that sold meths to alcoholics.
The coalition proposed that boarding houses have to be regulated the way rest homes were and that caravan housing be included. It called for minimum standards to be enforced with regular inspections and requirements that homes housing families provided separate bathroom facilities for them.
Other improvements suggested included more tracking of residents and support to access assistance as well as measures around notice periods.