Northlanders are living in cars and cowsheds amidst a public housing crisis that won't be solved by plans to build or buy 147 houses by 2020, a community leader says.

One Double Five Community House co-ordinator Carol Peters said Northlanders were living on streets, in emergency houses, in overcrowded houses and even in cowsheds.

Peters said building cheaper houses was a way to alleviate the problem but that required partnership between the Government, local councils and community housing providers.

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Her comments come as a Ministry of Social Development report revealed it is regularly paying more than $1 million each week to Northlanders for accommodation supplements (AS) and temporary additional support (TAS).

In the week ending September 30, the payments were $800,593 (AS for 15,193 people) and $242,679 (TAS for 3850 people).

Pete Nicholas loads fruit into the Food Rescue Northland van while Rob Hill chats to Carol Peters.
Pete Nicholas loads fruit into the Food Rescue Northland van while Rob Hill chats to Carol Peters.

In the last week of 2017, this had risen to $819,312 (AS for 15,559) and $215,360 (TAS for 3974) - a total of $1,070,672.

An additional $201,703 was paid out for emergency housing special needs grants over October, November and December last year.

The report also noted $201,703 was paid in the last quarter of 2017 to help 81 families to stay in short-term accommodation such as motels.

Peters said the demand for public housing in Northland was reaching crisis levels that had also been seen in Auckland.

An additional 147 houses the ministry has targeted to buy or build in the next two years— there are currently 2040 - would not meet the demand, she said.

By 2020, the ministry hopes to have 1369 public houses in Whangarei, 704 in the Far North and 114 in Kaipara.

"Everyone is talking about the housing crisis in Auckland but in fact Whangarei is also in a difficult situation because of difficulty in getting into rental accommodation - and there's population growth as well," Peters said.

"Those unable to get houses are not just people on a benefit but the working class as well. People are living on streets, in emergency houses, in overcrowded houses and even in cowsheds and it's getting worse," Peters said.

She said only a fraction of a large number of people that applied for emergency housing were able to secure a home.

Building cheaper houses, she said, was part of the solution but the Government, local councils and community housing providers had to work together.

Adrian Whale, chairman of Tai Tokerau Emergency Housing Trust, said his office received 182 inquiries from families seeking temporary housing in the second half of last year.
But only 45 families could be accommodated.

Tai Tokerau Housing Trust's Adrian Whale outside one of the trust properties in Whangarei.
Tai Tokerau Housing Trust's Adrian Whale outside one of the trust properties in Whangarei.

He agreed with Peters that more affordable houses needed to be built.

At the end of last week there were 23 families and individuals staying in motels throughout Northland.

A homeless and unemployed man in Whangarei who has been sleeping with family, friends and in cars for the past two years said: "I live day to day and would really prefer rental accommodation but there's none available.

"I feel for families because they need shelter more than I do," he said.

At the end of last year, 191 people were on the public housing waiting list in Northland while 45 who were already housed were eligible for a transfer to another property.

The ministry said 129 places were available in transitional houses in Northland at the end of 2017 that were managed by contracted providers such as Ngati Hine Health Trust, He Korowai Trust, Salvation Army, Women's Refuge, and Emerge Aotearoa.