Some Bay pensioners and families are being forced to live in camping grounds as a "housing crisis" in Tauranga worsens.
Labour MPs Phil Twyford, David Parker and Nanaia Mahuta yesterday heard from Tauranga residents who said the escalating cost of rentals in the city was making it almost impossible to find a home.
The meeting, staged to discuss what was described as the city's "housing crisis", was held at the Wesley Centre and was attended by about 80 people.
A pensioner in her 60s told the MPs she might be forced to live in her car because the campground she was living in, the Golden Grove Holiday Park, was about to be redeveloped into a housing area. The woman, who did not wish to be named because she was "highly embarrassed" about her situation, said she had been on the emergency housing waiting list for six months and also on the RSA unit waiting list for two years.
She had struggled to find an affordable place to rent and had to do so by the end of June.
"By June 30, if I can't find anywhere to live, I could be forced to live in my car," she said.
The pensioner said she and her late husband had lost most of their money after selling their home and investing in stocks and shares.
Tauranga woman Kellie Kioa, who runs the social services charity Te Tawharau o te Ora said since January she had housed 17 homeless families in her garage.
Mr Twyford, the party's Housing spokesman, said Labour was committed to a massive state-backed housing programme and would continue to fight the selling off of state homes.
Under Labour's Kiwi Build scheme 100,000 homes would be built for first-home buyers.
New Zealand's housing supply situation was a "basket case", he said.
Labour would also crack down on non-resident foreign investors buying existing housing stock and review the Residential Tenancies Act to deliver more security of tenure for tenants.
The party was promising to deliver a "tidal wave" of big housing reforms the country had not seen since [former Labour Prime Minister] Michael Joseph Savage's time, he said.
Tauranga National MP Simon Bridges said there was no silver-bullet answer to the housing supply shortage and it would take a comprehensive set of solutions to free up more land for housing in the Western Bay.
Mr Bridges said the Government was already working on a raft of building and development policies, which included Resource Management Act reforms, and consideration was being given to introducing a land tax for foreigner buyers.
"I don't think Tauranga wants to see a tidal wave from Labour. But in all seriousness we take these housing cases very seriously and I ask anyone who is really struggling to find somewhere to live to contact my office so we can help."
Mr Bridges said his office had dealt with a lot of housing shortage cases and as yet he was unaware of a case where Government agencies were not able to help.
Thousands of homes were being worked on as part of the Special Housing Area project in the Western Bay and the KiwiSaver HomeStart grants would help hundreds of thousands of young families to get their first homes, he said.
Solo mother Vanessa Court told the Bay of Plenty Times the increase in rents was also hitting fulltime workers.
She and her two teenage children had been living in a cabin at Silver Birch Holiday Park for the past seven months, and had struggled to find a home.
Ms Court, 42, a kindy teacher at Welcome Bay's Earth Kids Childcare Centre, said she had put her name down at four real estate agencies, but so far had been unsuccessful in finding a place.
"Most of the two-bedroom places I have looked at are $340-$350 a week, and when you turn up for a viewing it's like the agent's running an auction. There are plenty of Aucklanders offering to pay way more than the advertised rent so you don't get a look in."
Ms Court said locals were being squeezed out of the rental market, and she never imagined she would ever find herself in her current situation.
Silver Birch Holiday Park manager Sharon Makai said the park was full with up to a dozen tenants occupying the cabins and caravans, the majority struggling to find a home. Ms Makai said the longest tenant had lived at the park for a year. As soon as someone moved on people were queuing to take their place.
Up to 150 letters a day sent by the Bay of Plenty District Health Board aren't being delivered - one of the wider impacts of Tauranga's rental crisis.
At the district health board's monthly meeting yesterday, chief operating officer Pete Chandler talked about the growing number of Tauranga people finding it hard to get a rental property and how this could be observed in unusual ways through the health system.
One example Mr Chandler raised was that up to 150 letters a day were not reaching their intended recipients.
"People are falling off the bottom of the housing ladder as rentals become too expensive.
"We're starting to see tangible evidence of this, it's being manifested in unexpected ways - up to 150 letters a day coming back as the person is no longer at the address or the address doesn't really exist."
Mr Chandler said more people were living in caravans and garages.
"That's the reality. That's the new homeless."
Chairwoman Sally Webb agreed it was something the health board should be working on.
The health board, together with Work and Income and Tauranga City Council, had agreed to help fund a co-ordinator to work with the Tauranga Moana Night Shelter to address some of the issues affecting the homeless in the city.
The board was also considering placing a fulltime social worker in Tauranga's Emergency Department.
Board member Judy Turner attended a Waikato District Health Board Community and Public Health Advisory Committee meeting recently, at which the effectiveness of its newly appointed emergency department social worker was discussed.
Mrs Turner said this addition had helped decrease waiting times at the Waikato DHB.
Other health boards around the country also employed a social worker at their emergency departments.
Chief executive Helen Mason said this concept was something that was being looked into.
An on-call social worker was already available.
Mrs Webb said this system appeared to work well at other district health boards, but for it to be implemented in the Bay, it would be a matter of redirecting resourcing from somewhere else.
Having a social worker in the emergency department meant a more holistic approach for patients seeking emergency care, she said.
- Sonya Bateson
Housing affordability in Tauranga:
* Tauranga's median rent hit $425 in February, up from $370 at the same time last year.
* Tauranga-Western Bay region is one of the most unaffordable places to live second only to Auckland, according to a report released in January.
* The latest Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey, showed Tauranga had a "severely unaffordable" score of 8.1. A year ago the score was 6.8 - any more than 3 is classed as unaffordable.