More social housing is on the way for Tauranga and Papamoa, the Government announced today at the opening of a new emergency house in the Avenues.
The news came just in time for heavily pregnant Te Puke mother Eileen Uerata, 33, who went into labour just as Associate Social Housing Minister Alfred Ngaro cut the ribbon.
The new house, Whare Potae, in Devonport Rd, houses Uerata, her husband Heemi who works fulltime as a cool store manager, and their four daughters Karn, 4, Laylah, 8, Bowen, 9 and Halo, 10. They will shortly be joined by her newborn son.
The house, run by Tauranga social agency Te Tuinga Whanau, is named after the agency's board member Beth Bowden, known around town as "the potae princess", famous for her eclectic collection of hats.
"Where ever you put your hat, it is a home," Bowden told NZME.
Ngaro tied the opening ceremony's ribbon around one of Bowden's hats and hung it on the wall of Whare Potae, where it watches over Uerata and her family along side a canvas with the words painted, "Dare to Dream".
Uerata and her husband were both working at the coolstore when they were given the standard 42 days notice on their Tauranga rental home where they had been living for six years with their daughters, three of whom attend Otumoetai school.
Despite being able to pay up to $460 a week in rent, the family were unable to find another home.
"We looked at hundreds. We applied for so many and it seemed each time like there were millions of people after the same house. It wasn't a question of money - we had the rent - we are hard workers, but we just couldn't find a house. When landlords see a lot of kids they are put off."
Unable to secure a new house at the end of six weeks, the family were about to move into their car in a park when Te Tuinga Whanau stepped in.
The family will stay in the transitional house until the agency can help find them a permanent rental.
Whare Potae is one of five transitional houses managed by Te Tuinga Whanau. As well as this new Avenues house, Whare Tauranga in The Strand houses three families, two Gate Pa houses accommodate another six families, and a Parkvale house looks after another two families.
Joining Ngaro at the opening were Tauranga MP Simon Bridges, Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller, and Accessible Properties chairperson Paul Adams, who is also patron of Te Tuinga Whanau.
Te Tuinga Whanau's chairman Bruce Bryant told the politicians that the trust was in dire need of more funding - one board member had to dip into its own pockets to the tune of $10,000 to pay staff wages.
"We currently get just $240,000 a year which is designed to help five people a week. But we are actually helping up to 80 people a week. We really need our funding to triple to $600,000 and I am asking you to make that happen."
Bryant told NZME the agency's three-year contract for transitional housing expires on June 30, and they were anxiously awaiting news from Social Development Minister Anne Tolley about future funding.
The agency's five houses are part of just 21 transitional housing places in Tauranga, but all that is set to change, says Ngaro.
Today he said the Government is planning to have 68 short-term transitional housing places in Tauranga and Papamoa by the end of the year, which will support 272 Bay families.
The families will stay in the transitional housing until more permanent housing solutions are found, Ngaro says.
In the wider Bay of Plenty there will be 146 transitional housing which will house 584 families each year.
While the transitional - or emergency housing - provides a short-term solution, Ngaro said the Government would also provide 290 new properties in the Bay of Plenty for social housing,
"When I first met Minister for Tauranga Simon Bridges, he told me, we need housing, housing, housing. He has been listening to the stories from his community and lobbying for Tauranga for a long time. These new properties will be a welcome addition to this growing region."
Ngaro said he had been impressed by the wraparound model provided by Te Tuinga Whanau, which links families in the whares to any necessary agencies, and provides practical help, including teaching them budgeting, cooking, health, weaving, and even how to catch a fish.
"They are providing more than houses - they are homes. They give people hope. The government cannot be alone in solving problems, it needs to be the whole community standing together. We need to understand the potential of people in our communities and allow people to believe in themselves so the future generations of these tamariki like the ones running around here today believe in themselves too.
Te Tuinga Whanau's Tommy Kapai agreed it was "about making people feel they belong, so they can have aspirations".
There have been many success stories from families who have been through the whares, who have since found permanent homes and employment.
"Places like Comvita and the Port of Tauranga have welcomed these people into jobs...when they came to us they might not have ever cooked a meal, when they leave they know how to catch a snapper, skin it and serve it up for breakfast. When people know what it is like to live in a warm house, to be able to sit around the table and eat together, to learn how to pay the bills, it is amazing where that takes people. We act as enablers...reconnecting people to what they have lost, or what they never had."
The gathering ate snapper caught by Kapai and cooked by his brother, chef Stephen Wilson together with 19 adults and 39 tamariki, all who live in the five whares.
Te Tuinga Whanau is also working with Paul Adams' Accessible Properties, which in April took over the transfer of Housing New Zealand's Tauranga and Western Bay rental stock.
Accessible Properties, a charitable arm of non-profit group IHC, which advocates for intellectually disabled people, as of April 1 has taken over the 1138 state houses in the Bay of Plenty. The organisation has set up an office on Cameron Rd in Tauranga, where a team of 12 staff members will be based.
Accessible Properties chairman Paul Adams said he had an excellent "symbiotic relationship" with Te Tuinga Whanau, and has pledged to work with iwi agencies and other government agencies to help tenants strive towards housing independence.
"Like the families at Te Tuinga Whanau, families in social housing include people having difficulty entering into the rental market."
Accessible's tenancy managers would be serving the tenants' specific needs and hooking them up with the relevant social service agencies.
Adams told NZME that he was looking to more than double the portfolio over a period of five years due to the increased demand for smaller units of one or two bedrooms. He would achieve this though a mix of new land development where he will uplift and relocate and refurbish existing properties, as well as build new ones.
"Some of the houses in our portfolio are really sound weatherboard houses, but they need fixing, insulating properly or are located on sprawling land. By relocating them we will be able to fix them up to make them more habitable. On sections where there is currently only one house we will be able to put up to three smaller houses which will help more families and better serve the tenants' demands."
He said he would be working closing with Tauranga City Council on new developments, newly built houses and redevelopments which would be spread all around the portfolio in Welcome Bay, Cameron Rd, the Mount and Te Puke.
"We are in the planning stage now of these projects. By six months we will be doing the first one.
"Accessible Properties needs to expand its existing social portfolio to give us the flexibility to move some of our tenants around while we redevelop various sites to get more fit for purpose houses including brand new houses of one and two bedrooms."
He said flexibility from council was key as red tape and bureaucracy threatened the speed of developments which had negative repercussions on families waiting for housing.
"As a registered community housing provider we get income related rent subsidies which means we can do things with council property better than they can. We need support from council to help with planning, and allowing us the flexibility to do things that they can't."
He said the Government initiative to sell the Housing New Zealand portfolio to Accessible Properties was a first for Tauranga, and a template that he thought would be adopted across New Zealand.
"I would like to compliment the Government for getting us involved as we believe we do the job better than others."
He welcomed today's announcement about more transitional and social housing for the region.
"We are looking forward to supporting this initiative. Watch this space because in next six months we will be underway with a very significant project. This is great news for Tauranga and great for families in need of better housing."