Taxpayers are bearing the brunt of Tauranga's social housing crisis - forking out more than $20 million to the sector.

But Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford says every dollar spent was worth it.

Figures supplied to the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend show the government spent $17 million topping up people's rent and $2.3m on transitional housing in two years, plus $1m on emergency housing special needs grants including motels, in six months - to shelter homeless families.

However, housing providers say demand for housing outstrips supply and there had been recent periods with no emergency or transitional homes available in Tauranga.

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Taxpayers Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke said spiking social housing costs in Tauranga and across New Zealand were a perfect example of how taxpayers had become "collateral damage" in the housing crisis.

''Pouring more and more money into social housing is just an expensive band-aid for New Zealand's wider housing shortage. The Government won't see its massive social housing bill shrink until it eases and frees up supply in the private market. This will require large-scale reform of land use laws.''

Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford said it was disappointing the Taxpayers Union was focused on dollars, not people. He said he made no apology for pulling out all the stops to house people in need as he did not want families living in cars and garages.

The government was doing all it could to build the country out of its housing crisis, he said.

''Our aim is to reform our urban planning system so it allows our towns and cities to grow up and out, and builds the kinds of houses people want, at prices they can afford, in areas they want to live.''

There are currently 261 people on the Ministry of Social Development's waiting list for state houses in Tauranga, up from 91 in 2014.

In the last two financial years to June 2018, the ministry paid three community housing providers just under $17m towards income-related rent subsidies.

Ministry of Housing and Urban Development public housing supply deputy chief executive Scott Gallacher said income-related rent subsidies were the difference between market rent and what a tenant paid in income-related rent.

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Four transitional housing providers which provided warm, dry and safe short-term accommodation also received about $2.3m over the same timeframe.

Meanwhile, the ministry paid $624,000 in emergency housing grants, primarily to motels in Tauranga, from October 2018 to December 2018. It paid $385,373 the previous quarter.

Accessible Properties took ownership of the 1138-home Housing New Zealand portfolio two years ago has projects under way to build 44 more homes in the region with a commitment to build another 125 - for 3500 people.

Chief executive Greg Orchard said demand for housing in the city was incredibly high and Tauranga was not only one of the least affordable cities to live in New Zealand but worlds ahead of Melbourne and Sydney.

Nearly a third of Tauranga's rental households were in rental stress, paying more than 30 per cent of their income on housing costs while only 2.5 per cent was public housing compared with 4.5 per cent nationally, he said.

Accessible Properties has demolished two houses on Cameron Rd to make way for six new two-bedroom units. The development is to be completed in June. Photo / Andrew Warner
Accessible Properties has demolished two houses on Cameron Rd to make way for six new two-bedroom units. The development is to be completed in June. Photo / Andrew Warner

''We want to do more to grow the number of homes we have available however the funding currently available, and the Government's new public housing supply targets, fall well short of what is required to meet the high level of demand in Tauranga.''

Tauranga Community Housing Trust general manager Jacqui Ferrel said the registered community housing provider had 75 houses in Tauranga and managed 34 transitional homes and motels at Pāpāmoa for the Ministry of Social Development.

''Housing is challenging across the whole continuum. Every part of the sector needs homes urgently. There have been periods recently where there was absolutely no emergency or transitional housing available in Tauranga, even for the most critical of situations.

''The pressure on the system at times has been extreme this summer.''

Unfortunately, many homeless people were still cycling around seven-day emergency motel accommodation waiting for transitional or social housing or couch-surfing with family or friends.

''We all agree that motels are not appropriate homes for people or families and it is a shame that there is no end in sight to this.''

Mangatawa Papamoa Blocks Inc was owned by 800 shareholders and has 12 four-bedroom homes and 10 kaumatua two-bedroom homes in its social housing portfolio.

Executive manager Paula Werohia said buying homes, land and rentals in Tauranga was ''very expensive''.

''It's very hard for young couples with small families renting and trying to save to build their own home. Mangatawa will build more homes as it can afford to.''

Families and the elderly were living in "overcrowded" conditions.

''I think the worst off aren't identified as often with some living in cars with young children.''

No place like home

Kapi Smith says ''life is beautiful'' after moving into a social housing property more suited to his health issues.

He suffers from a respiratory disability and says Accessible Properties shifted him into a two-bedroom home in Welcome Bay in November after he struggled to maintain his previous house which had stairs and was on a hill.

They also offered him wraparound services and support.

No stranger to homelessness, Smith says he spent years being transient.

''I went from family member to family member and they get a bit hōhā with you. I was so depressed with nowhere to go and you don't want to bug your whānau all the time.''

Smith says he had done time couch surfing, in hostels, at the men's shelter and house sitting his friend's farm, and although he did secure accommodation with one housing provider, he had to leave after a dispute.

He credits Accessible Properties for giving him a second chance.

''They have been fantastic and really helped me.''