As Tauranga's population and popularity grows, so does its housing crisis. Figures show the number of people turning to the Government for help to get a roof over their head has increased dramatically in recent years. Bay of Plenty Times reporter Jean Bell investigates the reasons behind the rocketing statistics.
Emergency housing grants in Tauranga have skyrocketed more than 700 per cent in two years.
The grants are used to provide temporary accommodation in a hostel or motel contracted by the Ministry of Social Development.
In figures released to the Bay of Plenty Times under the Official Information Act, $74,214 was paid to house 48 people in 111 emergency housing grants in Tauranga in the quarter ending December 2016.
During the same period in 2018, this figure increased 775.96 per cent to $650,088. This was to house 156 people through 639 grants.
The trend has continued. In the quarter ending March 2019, 690 grants totalling $736,286 were distributed in Tauranga, according to a Public Housing Quarterly report released by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.
The struggle for some people to secure housing is also reflected in other statistics, with the report showing the number of applicants on the ministry's housing register in Tauranga increased by 20, standing at 281 in the quarter ending March 2019.
Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Mike Bryant said housing demand in Tauranga increased in the last few years, as it did in the rest of the country.
On Thursday the Government addressed transitional housing in the 2019 Budget. It allocated $283.3m in capital and operating investment to increase the supply of long-term and relocatable transitional housing places to about 2800 nationwide.
Tauranga Community Housing Trust general manager Jacqui Ferrel said the increase correlated with a squeeze on the supply of affordable rentals, especially since no new state housing had been built in recent years.
Ferrel said the increased demand for accommodation during events such as the AIMS Games saw accommodation providers block out dates in advance to reserve space for other visitors during busy periods. This left those staying on an emergency grant homeless yet again.
It was during the AIMS Games period last year that an emergency housing campsite was established by Te Whare Ora 111 Charitable Trust, according to trustee Maria Fuller.
Trustee Hoki Bruce said some people moved back into motels after the AIMS Games but those who had nowhere to go stayed on at the campsite, located on Anglican Church-owned site on Ohauiti Rd.
Bruce said a "chronic shortage" of affordable rentals - which was in part contributed to by the state homes sell-off - had caused the grants increase.
Eleven people were currently staying and the trust got requests every week from people looking for accommodation.
In May, a solo mother with two children and two single people had asked to stay.
"That's not unusual, people ring us all the time," Bruce said.
The trust was seeking resource consent and funding from the Tauranga City Council to allow more people to stay at the property and establish proper accommodation facilities.
Ministry of Housing and Urban Development acting deputy chief executive, strategic purchasing and public housing supply Andrew Plant said the Government stopped the large-scale transfer of state housing properties to third parties in December 2017.
About 1100 Housing NZ properties were transferred to Accessible Properties on the condition they continued to be used as public housing.
Hospitality New Zealand accommodation sector Bay of Plenty chairman and 850 Cameron Motel owner Tony Bullot said more houses were being let out on Airbnb rather than rented, which added to the rental shortage.
SocialLink general manager Liz Davies said Tauranga's increasing population had packed the pressure on the city's housing supply, causing rent and house prices to rocket.
Statistics New Zealand estimated the population of Tauranga increased by 6800 to 135,000 people between 2016 and 2018.
Davies said the increased public acknowledgement of New Zealand's homelessness contributed to the grant increase, along with more awareness of the services on offer by those who needed help.
The Government's response was to give emergency housing grants in lieu of building more houses.
Anyone on a low income was feeling the pinch but the problem was "spreading its net" to affect people on medium incomes too, she said.
Ministry of Housing and Urban Development's Andrew Plant said the Government placed a strong emphasis on making sure people in need got access to warm, safe accommodation and more people were coming forward asking for help.
People with urgent housing needs worked with Ministry of Social Development staff to find long-term accommodation but, if this was not available, people might be placed temporarily in a motel.
"This isn't an ideal solution, however, it is preferable to seeing families and individuals sleeping rough," Plant said.
The Government would fund an additional 105 public housing places in Tauranga by 2022. The Housing First programme had also been rolled out in Tauranga, which was funded to house and support up to 100 households.
Te Tuinga Whanau Social Services Trust executive director Tommy Wilson said the period of the increase "marries up" with Tauranga's rental shortage.
While the magnitude of the problem may not have been understood before, it was now being acted on and this cost money, he said.
Living in a motel with four children: Claire's story
Claire is one of many people living in transitional housing in Tauranga.
The house she and her family stay in, while sparsely furnished, is clean, safe and warmed by a roaring fire - a far cry from what the family has lived through since the beginning of the year.
Claire is not her real name. She wished to remain anonymous to protect herself as she pursues a better future for her family.
She and her husband, along with their four young children, were living in a home shared with another family.
Claire was studying fulltime at Toi Ohomai with the help of a scholarship, while her husband worked in Tauranga.
Claire had been addicted to methamphetamine for a year and kicked the habit after a family intervention. She has been clean for two years.
Claire's husband is a gang member but only so he could ride motorbikes, she said.
In February, Claire contacted the ministry which referred her to a transitional housing provider.
Later that month, the family was moved into a Tauranga motel with the help of the ministry and a social agency.
While the two-bedroom unit at the motel wasn't an ideal place to house the family, she said the family was grateful.
"We had a roof over our head, and we can't complain. It's better than being on the streets."
Now, Claire and her husband are looking to build a future for their children. She looked forward to living in a house they could call home.
"I've come from being a drug abuser to being a fulltime student on a scholarship."
"We work our butts off every week. We don't have everything we want, but we have everything we need, and we do it for our children."