The costs of supporting Kiwis struggling with living costs has neared $1 billion in just three months as 1000 more applicants joined New Zealand's ballooning public housing waitlist.
In the three months to March, total housing support spending amounted to $964.9 million, an increase of more than $150m since the quarter to March 2020.
The number of individuals and families waiting for public housing increased to a new record of 23,687 - up from 22,521 in December - representing a 45 per cent increase or over 7000 households year on year.
The steady increase comes as rents and housing prices continue to steadily rise across the country, and off the back of economic pressures from Covid-19.
The list, supplied by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, has swelled to more than four times the size it was when Labour was elected in 2017.
The increase in demand continues to outstrip new supply, with the total number of public houses increasing just under 700 places to 73,847 (made up of 63,898 Kāinga Ora properties and 9949 from community housing providers).
Those on the public housing register were disproportionately Māori, making up 49 per cent - a proportion that increased 3 per cent in the past two years.
Pākehā make up 23 per cent of applicants and Pasifika 13 per cent.
Accommodation support spending included $303.2m for the income-related rent subsidy, $499.9m for the accommodation supplement, $78.9m for temporary additional support, $77.8m emergency housing special needs grant (typically emergency motels) and $5.1m for housing support products.
Associate Housing Minister Poto Williams said people have been encouraged to come forward if they need access to "warm, dry, safe accommodation".
"This will be one of the motivating factors behind the register increase."
She said the Government was playing "catch up", and on track to deliver 18,450 new public and transitional housing places by 2024 - following decades of neglect in the sector.
Other recent measures to increase supply include planning rules to allow intensification in urban areas, the $3.8 billion Housing Acceleration Fund, and Kāinga Ora being able to borrow $2b for strategic land purchases to enable more housing.
"We are making good progress, but it will take more time," Williams said.
The quarterly data also shows the severity of need of those on the waitlist increasing, with 91 per cent in priority A - up from 88 per cent in March 2020.
Meanwhile the number of clients seeking emergency housing grants has continued to slow to 8023, down from the peak in the quarter to September 2020 of 9823.
However it was still an increase of 1700 in a year and nearly double two years ago.
National's housing spokesperson Nicola Willis said the increasing waitlist showed more and more New Zealanders were in desperate need.
"It is important to look behind those numbers. Individuals and families [are] bearing the brunt of the underlying housing shortage.
"It also shows more and more ending up in emergency housing, in unstable and unsafe conditions. Thousands of children are being raised in these conditions, it is a disgrace."
A Herald investigation this week revealed the dramatic rise in rental costs across the country, with Auckland and Wellington experiencing rises of around 50 per cent in real terms since 2000, with particularly sharp increases in the past few years.
Willis said spiralling costs of rentals driven by a shortage of houses was sending more and more to the Ministry of Social Development for housing support.
"The minister needs to front with a plan to get this under control. She tends to talk about building more state houses, but the reality is the waiting list has been growing around four times faster."
National has been proposing increasing areas zoned as housing and removing "red tape" to increase the number of houses consented.
"The minister often says consents are at record levels but they are nowhere near historical levels per capita. In 1973 we were building 13 homes per 1000 people, now it is just over 8 per 1000 people, so we'd like to see a lot more built over a sustained period."
Willis said new measures targeting investors could further increase rents, which the Government had been warned about in briefings.