More than half of just over 400 families waiting to get into state housing in Northland are in Whangārei where there's a critical shortage of two-bedroom temporary accommodation.

Figures released by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development show 406 families were on the Social Housing Register at the end of the March quarter compared with 276 for the same period last year.

However, it was a reduction from the December quarter when 445 families were on the waiting list.

Kaipara, particularly Dargaville, was the worst affected with a staggering 120 per cent increase year-on-year in the number of waiting families— from 15 to 33.

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Wesley Methodist Church minister Reverend Kuli Fisi'iahi of Dargaville has been helping families find temporary accommodation over the last two to three years and said the emergency housing situation was still "dire".

"Two Māori families approached me two months ago and they still haven't found a place to rent. With a squeeze on rental properties, I think there's a need for more State houses in Dargaville," he said.

Fisi'iahi helped a Tongan family buy a Housing New Zealand house in Dargaville when the former National government sold state houses.

"There are people who live in state houses in Auckland that are moving to Dargaville in the hope they'll find a state house here and when they can't, they return to Auckland."

Of the 227 families on the Social Housing Register in Whangārei at the end of March, 184 were listed as Priority A which meant they were considered "at risk" and included people with a severe and persistent housing need that must be addressed immediately.

In the Far North, 146 families were on the register of which 122 were classified as Priority A.

Ange Tepania of the Tai Tokerau Emergency Housing Charitable Trust said a father of two had to be accommodated in a three-bedroom house because smaller houses weren't available.

"We have a huge shortage of two-bedroom social housing in Whangārei," she said.

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There were 661 houses either owned or leased by Housing New Zealand in the Far North, 115 in Kaipara and 1334 in Whangārei at the end of March.

Over the same period, the Ministry of Social Development paid out $152,096 in emergency housing special needs grant to 70 families.

Chief executive of 155 Tai Tokerau Community Law Centre, Liz Cassidy-Nelson, said the pressure was on the government to build more state houses in Whangārei and Dargaville as soon as possible.

"Our One Double Five Whanau support team are working with whanau who have been on the waiting list for more than six months, one whanau has been waiting over a year. Many are living in overcrowded conditions or worse are homeless.

"One Double Five are working towards becoming a community housing provider. This is our response to the housing crisis.

"But that is only a one solution. If we are to end homelessness, we all need to work together - government, NGOs and the community themselves," she said.