Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

More living in cars as rents go through roof

A shortage of suitable homes sees some families forced to pay 70 per cent of their income to landlords

From left: Tamasailau, Nicole, Vaiopa'a, Maua, Faaasu, Jacoba and Moanille. Photo / Jason Oxenham
From left: Tamasailau, Nicole, Vaiopa'a, Maua, Faaasu, Jacoba and Moanille. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Families are being forced into desperate measures - paying more than half their income in rent and even living in cars - as Auckland's rental housing crisis deepens.

South Auckland social service agencies say they are seeing more families with children living in cars, camping grounds and boarding houses in the past two or three months as private sector rents become unaffordable and state houses have become almost unavailable.

Housing stress is also spreading into middle-income families as the proportion of all renters paying more than 40 per cent of their income in rent has more than doubled in the past decade nationally, from 9.5 per cent to 23 per cent.

Last year 48 per cent of all renters who received an accommodation supplement, or 94,000 households, already paid more than half their income in rent.

Salvation Army Manukau community ministries director Pam Hughes said some families were now paying more than 70 per cent of their incomes on rent, but could not keep up payments and came to her service in crisis.

"We are seeing an increase in families in vehicles. Families in cars have been increasing over the last three or four months, simply because there isn't enough affordable accommodation for them," she said.

"It's actually affecting our social workers because they are unable to assist some of the families we are seeing, and that is taking a big toll on them. We will go the extra mile, we always do, but currently we have hit a brick wall. We don't have enough affordable housing."

Manurewa Marae whanau support worker Ngaire Munro said she had also seen "an influx of families in crisis mode for housing".

Despite an economic upturn, priority A applicants on the social housing waiting list, described as "at risk and including households with a severe and persistent housing need that must be addressed immediately", have ballooned nationally from 425 in mid-2012 to 3188 this June. More than half (1707) are in Auckland.

Michael Clatworthy, electorate secretary for former Manukau East MP Ross Robertson and its new MP Jenny Salesa, said a major factor was a reversal of transtasman migration.

"It's one of those perfect storms. A lot more people are coming back from Australia and less people are leaving, so the Housing NZ houses that used to be becoming available are not becoming available," he said.

On top of that, he said, a transfer of the social housing waiting list from Housing NZ to Work and Income in April had removed the flexibility that Housing NZ managers used to have.

For example, Work and Income might assess a family with six children in a van as needing a house with four or five bedrooms, so they might sit on the waiting list for months until such a large house became available.

"Under the old system, you could talk to a manager and they could get you a three-bedroom house, which was better than nothing," Mr Clatworthy said. Social Development Ministry general manager Marama Edwards said Work and Income still worked closely with emergency housing providers and adjusted families' priority ratings when their circumstances changed.

"If people are experiencing hardship they should contact Work and Income," she said.

The Manukau Salvation Army is auctioning a "tent for any tenant" on Trade Me to fund its housing services. Bids close on Friday, October 10, World Homeless Day.

Waiting list
Priority A

June 2007: 133
June 2008: 248
June 2009: 261
June 2010: 368
June 2011: 402
June 2012: 425
June 2013: 1290
June 2014: 3188

- Sources: Housing NZ, Work & Income

Cold van is home for a family of six

The Tuuu family - mum, dad and their six children - have been living in a van for a week because they cannot find a house.

Two of their young children have become sick, and the baby, Maua, has developed a cough.

"It's very cold at night," Vaiopa'a Tuuu said. "I'm just so worried. I worry about my kids."

Tamasailau Tuuu, his wife and their children, aged from 15 to 3-months-old, were doubling up with another couple and their three children in a three-bedroom house after their landlord sold their own rented home in Clendon, South Auckland, two months ago. But their friends asked them to move out.

"She was worried about her tenancy, and the neighbours were complaining about my baby crying at night, and the house was overcrowded and her kids needed their own privacy," Mrs Tuuu explained.

Mr Tuuu works fulltime at the Zeagold chicken farm in Takanini, but is classed as a casual labourer so his net pay fluctuates between $800 and just $500 a fortnight.

Even with $512 a week in family tax credits and accommodation supplement, that is not enough to pay for a private rental. Average rents in Manurewa have risen in the past year from $382 to $408 a week for a three-bedroom house, and from $436 to $457 for four bedrooms.

So the family applied to Work and Income for social housing and were placed on the waiting list on September 9. Almost a month later, they are still waiting.

"I rang them early in the morning on Monday," Mrs Tuuu said. "I keep ringing them every day. They say the only thing they are doing is waiting for a house."

They have not been given a case manager so ring the call centre.

"You can't make another appointment to go there, only for the assessment."

- NZ Herald

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