Bruce Taft has never had to rely on anyone. He's scraped by relying on himself alone, not even claiming back taxes. Now, at 70, he's found himself homeless and relying on the Government for emergency housing, living in a motel week to week and separated from his companion, his dog. But Age Concern says while his situation is dire, it isn't unique. The Rotorua Daily Post finds out why.
"I've lived most of my life relying on myself and myself alone so it's hurtful to be dependent on other people, especially the Government."
Those are the words of Bruce Taft, who, at 70, has found himself evicted from his rental property and living week to week in emergency housing.
He had to leave his rental property of more than 11 years when it was sold.
Left homeless, Taft was helped into emergency housing by the Ministry of Social Development in May. He was assessed for social housing and placed on a wait list on July 16.
"I'm indebted to the Government ... They've put me up in a motel until I can find a place. That's a moral debt I will never be able to repay," Taft said.
"I now find myself struggling with a lot of stress and health issues trying to find a home.
"I'm under pressure to look at so many different houses a week so I leave the motel at 9am nearly every morning, go pick up my dog and then I'm out looking for a home.
"It's heartbreaking to have to farm my dog out to acquaintances and me live somewhere else. That's my companion."
Taft believes he's been missing out on rental properties because of his dog, gifted to him by his son, as many rentals have a no pets policy.
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"I also feel I'm being victimised because of my age.
"Because I have no children [living with me], no dependents, I'm not a priority."
Taft said the motel he was staying at had looked after him well.
Age Concern Rotorua manager Rory O'Rourke said Taft's situation, while dire, was not uncommon and they were seeing a growing number of people concerned about accommodation.
"That is probably our number one issue alongside elder abuse.
"We can give advice and try to help but quite often it is not up to us."
O'Rourke said Taft's situation was causing him undue stress adding to bad hearing, high blood pressure and asthma.
"Emergency housing is supposed to be that, for an emergency, but he has been in it for weeks."
He believed the council needed to build more pensioner housing.
"The number of people owning a house when they retire is dropping, and with an ageing population living longer, there will be a lot of pensioners around. The 'grey tsunami' is going to come. Councils and government need to be ready."
The Ministry of Social Development currently has eight clients aged 70 or older in emergency housing in the Bay of Plenty, representing roughly 2 per cent of emergency housing clients in the region.
Regional commissioner Mike Bryant said the ministry was in weekly contact with Taft about housing options and other help he was eligible for.
"As the housing shortage continues, the number of people we're helping continues to grow. At any given time, we have many people, often with high needs and complex situations, waiting for public housing," Bryant said.
"While we understand Bruce's dog is an important companion for him, having a pet does pose a problem for people needing emergency housing.
"We do sympathise with Bruce's circumstances and remain committed to working with him to make sure he's getting everything he's eligible for."
Professionals McDowell Real Estate co-owner Steve Lovegrove said it was distressing to hear elderly people were missing out on rental homes. He said the main issue was lack of supply.
"I don't think anyone would be disadvantaged for being older. Generally, the problem is we don't have enough houses and that's nationally."
Lovegrove said rental properties were getting a significant number of applications so having good references and clean credit was vital.
He said sometimes animals could affect the ability to secure a rental.
The Rotorua Daily Post recently revealed the ministry had approved 1852 emergency housing grants and paid $2.27 million to 34 motels, hotels, holiday parks and backpackers in the Rotorua District from January to March.
Ministry of Housing and Urban Development figures show in the quarter ending March 31 there had been 2701 Emergency Housing Special Needs Grants made supporting 498 households in the Bay of Plenty.
In Rotorua, there were 240 people on the Housing Register, 636 Public Housing tenancies and 1852 Emergency Housing Special Needs Grants were approved, worth $2,278,721.
Rotorua Lakes Council's acting strategy group manager Oonagh Hopkins said the council owned 152 pensioner units across five locations, a mix of one-bedroom units and bedsits.
"There is high demand for these units and applications are currently closed."
Hopkins said while Rotorua's housing availability and affordability issues were not unique, the challenges were serious.
"Among the challenges is the increase in demand for social housing for older people."
The council's pensioner housing units are self-funded, not ratepayer-funded, and the council has unsuccessfully lobbied Government for funding to improve or increase the facilities, Hopkins said.
It also considered selling the pensioner housing to a social housing provider.
"Council has been considering the options available to them around providing for services that best meet the social housing demands within our district, this work is ongoing."
Housing and support options
- Emergency housing includes short-term stays at motels or boarding houses, funded by MSD.
- Emergency Housing Special Needs Grant given one week at a time.
- Transitional housing includes medium-term stays with contracted providers, run by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.
- Long-term public housing provided by Housing New Zealand and Community Housing Providers
- Other MSD support includes accommodation supplements, temporary additional support, disability allowance, special needs grants, childcare subsidy, community services card and others.
- Source Ministry of Social Development