A protest last night saw desperate pleas for the Government to address an affordable housing shortage, despite there being a high number of empty state houses throughout the region.
State housing has proven a contentious election issue this year, with Labour accusing Housing New Zealand of raising its eligibility criteria and selling off assets en masse, while the Government maintains the corporation is focused on refurbishing and relocating existing stock to meet demand.
Speaking to a small crowd gathered in Hastings CBD, MANA Movement Ikaroa-Rawhiti regional chair Florence Karaitiana said she had counted 112 empty state houses in Flaxmere, Camberley, Maraenui and Raureka.
"There are empty homes. There are homes for you but for some reason you're not allowed to have them," she said.
The protest was organised by Louise Hutchinson, a single mother and EIT student who had been on the social housing waiting list for 15 weeks.
Ms Hutchinson, who lives in a motel unit with her two teenage children, said the number of people who were homeless or living in overcrowded conditions had shocked her.
"People need houses, they're in overcrowded conditions and they're in desperate need."
After Hawke's Bay Today ran a story about Ms Hutchinson's situation in Saturday's edition, Housing NZ had offered her a house on Manuka St, Mahora, which she was told she would be able to move into yesterday.
She declined the house after viewing it, because it was derelict and unsuitable for her family.
Meanwhile, Tukituki Labour candidate Anna Lorck was challenging her National opponent, Craig Foss, to allow a needy family to move into an empty state house in Havelock North. A neighbour said the Lipscombe Cres house had been empty since April.
Ms Lorck said state houses were being vacated and sold throughout the region. Figures released to Labour from Housing NZ under the Official Information Act showed the National Government planned to halve its 1200 state housing assets in Hastings, despite there being 102 people on the social housing waiting list in Hastings District as at June this year.
"National is planning a significant reduction in Housing NZ stock in Hastings District," Ms Lorck said. "As of March this year they had 1316 houses. National plans to reduce this by 48 per cent, or 637 houses, by March 2024 - to 679 houses." Housing NZ area manager Andrew Cairns rejected Ms Lorck's claims the corporation planned to sell off its Hawke's Bay assets. "We have no plans to significantly reduce stock."
The figures obtained by Labour were "from a piece of research commissioned and carried out a number of years ago, and were based on potential population predictions at the time - it was one of a number of tools we have used in the past, but wasn't our plan".
Mr Cairns pointed to seven new Housing NZ units in Maraenui and 14 in Marewa.
The Lipscombe Cres property was empty because there was no demand for it, he said.
"We don't have demand for that property, which has five bedrooms."
Ms Lorck said: "We've got a housing crisis. There are 102 people on the waiting list, people are crying out for housing, families are living in motel units, and Housing NZ is saying there's no demand.
"What we are seeing here is another example of neglecting the region and leaving us to deal with a shortage of affordable housing for our most vulnerable."
In response to Ms Lorck's comments, Tukituki National MP Mr Foss said the National Government was working hard to ensure those most in need had modern, fit-for-purpose homes.
"The Labour Party candidate raised this same issue in June. It is no more true now than it was then.
"As the local MP I have been, and continue to be, happy to work with Housing New Zealand to assist any families in need."
Mr Foss said all Housing NZ properties in the region were recently accessed to ensure they met earthquake standards.
Of the 2993 properties, 95 were identified as earthquake prone and unsafe to occupy. Tenants in those homes were safely relocated.
Housing NZ was also redeveloping 22 of its Hawke's Bay properties.
A Housing NZ spokeswoman, asked about the 112 empty state houses counted by Ms Karaitiana, said: "The houses will be vacant for a number of reasons. They may be between vacancies, or they may be of the wrong size or type to reach demand.
"We have enough properties to meet demand in Hawke's Bay."