More than 7000 could be homeless in Christchurch

By Kate Shuttleworth

The report is the first time the accommodation shortage has been quantified. Photo / Geoff Sloan
The report is the first time the accommodation shortage has been quantified. Photo / Geoff Sloan

The manager of Christchurch's Tenants Protection Association says she's not surprised by new figures that show there could be more than 7000 people classified as homeless in the city.

A new report by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment estimates there could be between 5510 and 7405 people classified as homeless in Christchurch, more than double the figure before the sequence of serious earthquakes that began in late 2010.

The association's Helen Gatonyi said more people were living in "rabbity old holes" that are cold, damp, mould-ridden and unsafe.

"When you're talking about homeless it's not just a rough sleeper, it's not just the people you see on the street - it's all of those people who are living in insecure tenancies, that are living in overcrowded situations, couch-surfing, in cars - they are deemed to be homeless.

"Many of these people don't have many choices."

The report is the first time the accommodation shortage has been quantified.

It says about 17,000 homes were red-zoned or deemed uninhabitable as a result of the quakes.

It documents a steep rise in rental prices and a jump in Housing New Zealand waiting lists, a lack of low-cost housing for low-income earners, and a steep rise in house prices.

Average rental prices have risen 31 per cent and the number of so-called affordable rental properties (under $300 a week) has fallen 60 per cent since the quakes.

The report says prices rose due to a decrease in the supply of new rentals, increasing demand from residents leaving the red zone, and demand for temporary accommodation from residents whose houses are being repaired and from construction workers arriving in the city.

The number of food parcels issued in December last year was the highest on record.

The report found holiday parks outside Christchurch were accommodating an increasing number of low-income vulnerable people, often at discounted rates.

Data showed the number of beneficiaries who had moved at least six times had increased 35 per cent, to 944, between the February 2011 quake and this year, with children involved in 262 of those moves.

Housing Minister Nick Smith denied there was an accommodation crisis in the city but called the situation "challenging".

Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford said Government had spent too long trying to deny there is a housing crisis and the report documented the extreme housing problems in Christchurch.

"If 7000 people are officially defined as homeless and there are steeply rising rents and house prices and a shortage of rental accommodation and Housing New Zealand accommodation; if this isn't a crisis then I don't know what is."

The report uses the term 'housing insecurity' to reflect Statistics New Zealand's definition of homelessness as living situations where people with no other options to acquire safe and secure housing are without shelter, in temporary accommodation, sharing accommodation with a household or living in uninhabitable housing.

There were 3750 homeless people in Christchurch before the earthquakes.

- APNZ

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