Unaffordable rent and a lack of temporary accommodation has resulted in the number of Northlanders on the social housing waiting list in the region more than doubling in just one year.
Figures from the Ministry of Social Development show 590 people were on the register at the end of March this year compared with 276 for the same time in 2019.
Of the 590, Whangārei had the most people on the waiting list at 338, of which 300 were classified as Priority A or those who are considered at-risk and includes those with a severe and persistent housing need that must be addressed immediately.
They are unable to access and/or sustain suitable, adequate and affordable alternative housing.
The remaining 38 were Priority B who have a "serious housing need" and includes those with a significant and persistent need.
In the Far North, 195 of the 208 were Priority A while 34 of the 44 in Kaipara were in that category.
• More than 400 Northlanders on the social housing register
• More than $3 million from Government for Northland social housing initiatives
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Whangārei mother of three Marina August considers herself extremely lucky to be moved into a two-bedroom Kainga Ora apartment in Morningside four weeks ago after she moved out of a private rental early this year.
She was put on the waiting list after contacting Kainga Ora halfway through the lockdown and explaining that her situation was having an impact on her mental health.
August lived with her mum for two years before their landlord decided to bring in new tenants, forcing her and her two daughters to live with someone they knew.
"We were given notice to vacate a week before Christmas to move out by the 28th of January. It was very hard to find alternative accommodation. I am grateful Kainga Ora found me a place really quickly.
"There's a real problem out there with housing because private rentals are very expensive for those on a benefit who are trying to get by so they go through social housing which is cheaper," she said.
Convenor of the Northland Housing Forum Tim Howard said the construction of "hundreds" of more transitional houses in the region, driven by the Government, would go a long way towards reducing the waiting list.
He said a gradual increase in housing need over the past two years, coupled with the cost of going into private rentals and a lack of temporary accommodation, has exacerbated the problem.
"I am not surprised by the numbers on the waiting list. Our perception is there's a far increased level of need than the numbers show. A lack of housing affordability has also been driven up by people coming from outside the region such as Auckland, both in the investment and rental markets," Howard said.
"Underpinning that, there's a lot of edging of people towards [the] for-profit private sector as a default. A certain number are coming back to social housing because they can't afford to live in private rentals for long."
While the Government has made moves towards building more state houses in future, Howard said more transitional and not just state and emergency housing was needed.
Liz Cassidy-Nelson, chief executive of 155 Community House, said there simply wasn't enough supply of houses for a growing number of people who are homeless, couch surfers, and those living in cars or with family and friends in crammed accommodation.
She is part of a government initiative in Whangārei that is moving rough sleepers, some of whom are on the social housing register, into temporary accommodation such as motels.
Cassidy-Nelson said 150 requests were received from rough sleepers of which 63 were put into motels and another 46 were on the waiting list.
"The majority of people we are dealing with are single men who need one-bedroom houses. When there are issues in the community, housing always plays a significant part.
"People are moving to Northland from Auckland and other regions and they are getting first dibs in rental accommodation, pushing locals out," she said.
Ange Tepania, manager of the Tai Tokerau Emergency Housing Charitable Trust, said low income and living costs were major obstacles to people getting into long-term accommodation.
"Bulk of those on the social housing register are single people and their base benefit rate is $280 maximum for a single person. It costs between $240 and $360 for them to rent a one-bedroom house or a studio and that's almost unsustainable."
Tepania said a lot of families escaped the high cost of living in Auckland and moved to Northland, only to find it was not cheaper to live in places like Whangārei.
The trust can accommodate 15 families and four single men at any one time in temporary accommodation in five sites in Whangārei.
She said those on the social housing waiting list currently stayed in motels, transitional and temporary housing, and with family and friends.
The Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner for Northland, Eru Lyndon, said supply and affordability of accommodation was an issue across the region and his office worked with NGOs such as Open Arms and the Salvation Army, as well as government agencies such as the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and Kainga Ora to tackle the problem.
He is urging people in need of housing assistance to visit the Work and Income website or call 0800 559 009.