The increasingly desperate plight of the city's working poor is the "silent inconvenient truth of poverty in Tauranga", the head of a local social agency says.
Last year Tauranga's population tipped more than 140,000. But latest data from CoreLogic shows the average income coming into a household in Tauranga was $98,000, which lagged behind Rotorua at $105,000 and the national average of $115,000.
Corelogic senior property economist Kelvin Davidson said across all fronts Tauranga was one of the least affordable cities in New Zealand, with the average house price hitting $758,000 and the average rent at $487 a week.
Davidson said Tauranga was a sought after destination and it was a relatively expensive market because "a lot of wealthy people with money and equity behind them had chosen to live there".
Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust director Tommy Wilson said the dynamics had shifted and there had been a significant change with more working poor seeking help.
He said that demographic was the "silent inconvenient truth of poverty in Tauranga".
"I don't think the ordinary person understands what it is like to live on noodles and what it is like to not to be able to put shoes on your kids' feet."
Te Tuinga Whanau was dealing with 4000 interventions a year and staff numbers had jumped from seven when the organisation started eight years ago to 57 today.
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Papamoa Family Services financial mentor Kathy Young said some of its clients were living on $20 a week for food while others were spending more than 75 per cent of their income on rent and others had resorted to living in their cars.
The service had helped more than 120 clients in the past 12 months and most of those people had insufficient income to cover basic living expenses.
"We have clients who are in shocking rentals but will not complain as they have accepted a reduced rent for a sub-standard rental and fear being evicted. We have some with no power, using only gas to cook with, and some living in their cars as they cannot afford to rent.
"The most common statement is that 'we are paying Auckland rents, but the cost of living is much higher in Tauranga'."
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Meanwhile, there had been a jump in people aged 50 years and over needing assistance.
Tauranga Budget Advisory Service manager Shirley McCombe said 30 per cent of its clients were wage earners, up from 26 per cent last year.
"Many families have very little to come and go on so when they have a large expense like a car repair, the money has to come from somewhere else. It has a huge impact.
"Constant financial stress affects relationships, physical and mental health, employment."
The total debts presented for accommodation and rent in 2019 was nearly quadruple of those the Budget Advisory dealt with last year, she said.
"It is often those on a benefit who find this the toughest. If a person's rent increases, they can apply to Work and Income to increase the accommodation supplement if they are eligible for it. For those not eligible, there is no assistance."
McCombe said one of its clients owed $160,000 to one creditor alone and those debts usually resulted in bankruptcy.
Salvation Army Tauranga Community Ministries manager Davina Plummer said some people were stuck in poverty "through absolutely no fault of their own".
The cost of living was getting higher and higher and things like dental care and being involved in sports are "actually a privilege".
This year the Salvation Army helped 720 people, compared to about 620 in 2018.
But Plummer said the numbers did not reflect the need and the quality of life had dropped for many people.
"Food is the one discretion in their budget as everything else is a must. If you are living in a house, you must pay the rent and power. If you are going to get to work, you must have petrol.
"So they are going without anything discretional and things like Netflix are an absolute luxury, so they go without access to TV, they go without access to the internet and without the ability to do anything extra curricular like having a holiday or a break."
Imagine having to say no and sorry to your children every day because you don't have any money, Plummer said.
Meanwhile, the Ministry for Social Development regional commissioner Mike Bryant said the ministry understood the cost of renting had increased in Tauranga, making it difficult for some families to get by.
"To help people with the cost, Tauranga has been zoned as an Accommodation Zone 1 to enable us to pay out the maximum amounts towards accommodation costs to help people with the rising cost of living in the region."
Another way to increase income was to find meaningful work, he said.
"Our local offices emphasise supporting people into employment and are here to help people find jobs. Simply give us a call and we'll try to find the right role for you.
"There is also help available for people who find themselves in hardship and in need of help and support to meet costs such as rent, power, food and dental treatment, and we are always happy to talk with people about what they might need help with."
Solo father of three Joe Kopura counts himself lucky after having to spend weeks in a motel.
He found a job and secured an Accessible Properties home on the same day earlier this month after seeking help from Te Tuinga Whanau.
But the house-proud dad said if he had to pay market rent instead of about 25 per cent of his wages he would be "stuffed" as his family ate a lot of food.
"I think I'd be having to rely on organisations like the foodbanks."
Now Kopura was enjoying his new surroundings.
"It has been pretty awesome and the kids are settling in really well."
Tauranga Foodbank manager Nicki Goodwin said in 2018 it issued 4709 food parcels compared to 5741 in the year to December 23, 2019.
She said it was working with people who were $70 in deficit every week and there was nothing that could be done.
"It is pretty tough.
"Twenty-three per cent of the people we help each month are actively involved in budget services. Whether they are working or not isn't so much the point, but that they are fully engaged with someone to improve the situation."
Goodwin said the foodbank had seen a significant increase of wage earners and single people seeking help.
Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services social worker Piki Russell said "we are all one traumatic event away from becoming destitute".
By the numbers
* The waiting list for public housing has increased by almost 150 per cent in Tauranga and the Western Bay since September 2017, according to Ministry of Housing and Urban Development figures.
* There were 178 people on the housing registry - in September 2019 it was 430 people. The list of people in public housing waiting to transfer to a more suitable house has grown from 26 to 35 in the same period.