More than 380 families remain in emergency housing as Hawke's Bay faces a worrying decline in the number of rental properties.
Over 380 households were staying in emergency housing - generally offered through motels - in Hawke's Bay and Gisborne at the end of February.
The number of households living in emergency housing has soared in Hawke's Bay during the past four years, and the cost on taxpayers reached a record figure during 2021.
That cost for 2021 has yet to be released publicly for Hawke's Bay and Gisborne, but is expected to be in the vicinity of $35 million in emergency housing grants.
The Ministry of Social Development says high demand for housing in Hawke's Bay means "at times we experience difficulty sourcing emergency accommodation" and the ministry has invited more motels to offer rooms.
It comes as rental data shows the number of private rentals available in Hawke's Bay has been steadily declining in recent years - making it extremely difficult for many families to lock in a rental on a modest budget and adding pressure to the need for emergency housing.
Despite a growing population, Trade Me Property and realestate.co.nz have both reported a decline in the number of properties listed for rent in Hawke's Bay in the past five years.
Trade Me says it recorded a 17 per cent drop in rental listings in Hawke's Bay in the year to February 2022. It also saw a drop in rental listings in four of the past five years.
As of last Friday, 83 properties were listed for rent across Hawke's Bay on Trade Me, about half of which were homes with three or more bedrooms.
To put that in perspective, there are more than 600 homes listed for sale in Hawke's Bay - meaning for each home listed for rent in the region there are about seven other homes up for sale.
Rents have also hit record highs.
Hawke's Bay man Richard Flood and his family, who include six children, have been unable to lock in a three or four-bedroom rental since losing their last rental in Napier in May, after their landlord decided to put it on the market.
He and his wife have applied for hundreds of rentals since then with no success despite having a budget up to $600 a week and good references, having spent 10 years at their previous rental.
A temporary solution, sharing a home with a generous friend, is coming to an end this week and they have been in talks with Work and Income to secure emergency housing.
He said the search for a rental had been much, much tougher than he thought it would be, and even trying to find emergency housing was difficult.
The system includes people like the Floods being given an emergency housing grant then calling motels themselves to try to organise a place with that grant.
"You virtually have to look for emergency housing yourself, which is quite tricky because you don't pay these guys, [the Government] has to pay," Flood said.
"So you can't organise it all, but you are expected to find it. It's really tough."
He said they had been having difficulty finding a motel that can offer enough space for the whole family or even two rooms right next to each other, so they can stay close by with one parent in each room.
Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Karen Bartlett invited any motels or accommodation providers interested in offering emergency accommodation in Hawke's Bay to get in touch with them, to help meet demand.
She said motels offering emergency housing were not contracted by the Government but rather dealt with clients directly, once a client had been approved for a grant.
"Demand for housing is high in Hawke's Bay and at times we experience difficulty sourcing emergency accommodation," Bartlett said.
"Special Needs Grants for emergency housing is last-resort assistance and can be used when a client cannot access any other accommodation suitable for their needs.
"If they meet the criteria we can support people to find somewhere to stay, where available.
"We are in regular touch with moteliers and other community partners. We have good local knowledge of those who want to work with us and our clients.
"If a new supplier wants to work with us we would encourage them to get in touch."
The rise of Airbnb as an option for property owners and also a government tax change whereby property investors can no longer fully deduct interest costs against the income they make from renting out a property, have contributed to the decline in rentals.
The waiting list for long-term public housing has also ballooned. The latest data, to January, showed there were 2295 applicants on the Housing Register across the East Coast region (Hawke's Bay and Gisborne).
That register is for people who have been deemed eligible for long-term public housing but are on the waiting list because there are no homes available. It can include people in emergency housing.
• If you can help the Flood family find a home contact them on firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com