Whanganui may not have a homeless crisis, but it does have a number of families - many with young children - struggling to get a decent, affordable, healthy home, and many feel they are not being well served by Housing New Zealand.

Laurel Stowell

looks at some of the issues they face.


CHLOE Sharrock and her three children are looking for a place to live in the Tawhero area of Whanganui.

She's in emergency accommodation provided by an agency and has to be out by September 25.

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Her last home was an unlined, old house she shared with her brother for nearly a year. Then he left the city and that possibility was gone.

Her children are aged 2 to 9 and oldest daughter, JD, has rheumatic fever, a disease that affects the heart, joints, brain and skin. When it affects the heart, it can be life-threatening.

JD has to have antibiotic injections every month for six months to fight the disease. All the children also have asthma and eczema.

The three-bedroom house had five people living in it, and was crowded. It had no heating until Ms Sharrock bought an electric heater.

When her brother left for Australia she applied to a rental agency to find another house. She was told there was a Tenancy Tribunal order against her, and so it would not help her.

She has applied to Housing New Zealand instead, and supplied a copy of JD's discharge summary from Whanganui Hospital to the Ministry for Social Development staff member who deals with applications.

But she's been told Whanganui is not a priority area for children with rheumatic fever.
In her Housing NZ application she chose five Whanganui suburbs close to her child's school, but was told there were no houses in those areas and was asked to go to another one.

"I said 'no' because my daughter attends Tawhero School and I'm in the community," she said.

She has been on a Housing NZ waiting list for nearly two months. When she had to leave her brother's house and had nowhere else to go, agency Te Ora Hou cleared out half of a house it rents so Ms Sharrock and her children could move in.

It's not the first time she has waited for a Housing NZ house. She was waiting last year, and told she was moved off the list because she forgot to provide a document. Ms Sharrock says no one let her know that she had forgotten, and she had to reapply.

She can afford to pay between $180 and $220 in rent, and said there were not many good houses available in that price range. Her things have been stored in a shed for a year.
And bonds for new rentals are typically six times the rental - about $1500 - while moving will cost money as well.

Going into a motel with an emergency payment from Winz would set her back, because she would have to repay that money.

The Tenancy Tribunal order meant she has few options, but she is meeting the tribunal and starting to pay back the rent she owes from this month.

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Lauriel and Emma Masson-Oakden and their four children will have to move out of their rented house, because it is for sale.

They have been renting for nearly four years, and were told it was for sale six weeks ago.
At least three lots of people have looked at it since then.

The three-bedroom house is small for six people, but it has a good woodburner for heating and a huge backyard for the children to run around in. They are paying $220 a week for it.

Both are on student allowances and, with accommodation supplement, the rent is a third of their combined income.

Their children go to Durie Hill and Wanganui Intermediate schools.

One of their problems with finding a new house is the children's pets. They have four cats, two rabbits and two mice that live in an indoor cage and "provide lots of entertainment for the cats".

They can't afford to pay more than $250 a week for rent, and most of the houses in that price range are in Castlecliff, a long way from the children's schools.

Emma Masson-Oakden has asthma, and so does her youngest child. At the moment all the children are sleeping in one bedroom, because it's the warmest and driest in the house.

"We've got a roof over our heads - we were grateful to find a house. We were in a two-bedroom house, but we would like more space because our oldest will be at
college next year and she will want her own room."

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Good rental houses are hard to find, Stone Soup Community workers Kathy Parnell and Sue Kumeroa say.

Another member of the community has three boys and has to move out of a rented house. She wants to stay near Tawhero School, where her children's high needs are met. She's finding 20 or 30 people wanting any house she seeks to rent there.

"Housing New Zealand say there are no houses, yet she's living in an area where they're selling them off."

Mrs Parnell has done a survey of people in the Stone Soup area, 18 streets of Tawhero/Gonville. She found six sets of Housing NZ tenants who had been asked to move out. One of them was Wendy Ross, who went public in the Chronicle and has got a reprieve.

Another couple were pensioners. They have been told they can buy their property, but are too old to get a mortgage.

Several had been in their houses for decades and took good care of them. One couple had family who stayed with them often.

"That house is overflowing with people at times. If they move, where will they go on a pension?"

The tenants have been told the Housing NZ criteria have changed.

There are empty Housing NZ houses in Gibbons Street, Titoki Street and Armstrong Pl,ace Mrs Parnell said.

According to the Housing NZ website there were 54 empty houses in Whanganui on March 31, with 25 of those for sale. Of the remaining 29, only six were ready for new tenants. The website is only updated every three months.

The women say those good houses should be available for people who need them, and not be sold. If they are waiting to be repaired, then why isn't that happening? If they are sold, with money used to build houses elsewhere in New Zealand, what will needy people of Whanganui do?

"Why shouldn't you be able to have pets because you are lower income? Pets are really important for kids. Why shouldn't you be able to live near your children's school. Why do you have to justify putting your kids' needs first?" the women ask.

They say that often homeless people are not told about help they are entitled to get.

"It's that whole feeling of we have to be grovellingly grateful. It gets to the point where you do it yourself, rather than hoping they will help you," Emma Masson-Oakden said.

The Stone Soup Community has been discussing what to do if Housing NZ can't be prevented from selling houses. It wants to let people know their options for buying a house.

Mrs Kumeroa said when she was growing up there were whole suburbs where people proudly lived in state houses. It was something to celebrate, and an honourable place to live.

"It just feels so different now. It should still be a wonderful thing to be able to get into a Housing New Zealand house."

Te Ora Hou manager Judy Kumeroa said the rental housing market in Whanganui was tight at the moment. She knows of a whole family "couch surfing" with friends - the second her organisation has dealt with in the last month in need of a home.