As the old saying goes: There is no place like home. But, unfortunately, there are not enough homes in Tauranga to go around, so more people are becoming trapped in transitional housing while rents continue to skyrocket and the waiting list for state and public housing grows. Carmen Hall reports on the crisis, which shows no signs of improving anytime soon.
The government has spent more than $9.6 million in three years putting Tauranga's homeless into transitional housing - many of whom are the ''working poor'', social agencies say.
Donna Love is one of those faces. The 35-year-old mother of seven has been in transitional housing for more than a year and has applied for more than 550 rentals.
Her husband is a factory worker and they have good credit ratings. But she believed the size of her whānau was putting off potential landlords.
''Disheartening, stressful and unsettling'' is how Love describes their situation.
Anxiety levels in her family have also soared. When she featured in the Bay of Plenty Times earlier in the year she received backlash on social media. At the time she was a solo mum.
''I was judged but I just brushed it off. They don't know me and were saying stuff out of pure ignorance like 'where is the dad?'''
All she wants now is a chance. She said Te Tuinga Whanau, which was her transitional housing provider, had been ''awesome'' and that she enjoyed their catch-ups as "the people are so lovely''.
Tommy Wilson, the director of social agency Te Tuinga Whanau, said the agency had about 20 residences for transitional housing and was looking at bringing in nine more properties in four to six weeks. It also had 15 motel rooms.
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''The demand will only keep growing as Tauranga grows and the rents go up and the bottom falls out.''
He said the new challenge was the "working poor" - people who had nothing left after paying $600 rent bills.
On the upside, Te Tuinga was developing a good relationship with real estate agents as they recommended only reliable families for tenancies.
''It has gone from very bad at the start, as that is why people were getting kicked out and ending up in caravans or in the backseat of cars, to now ... teaching them how to be good tenants.''
Tauranga Rentals owner Dan Lusby said houses that could accommodate nine people were rare and the market remained tight.
''We don't have any on our books at the moment. Even three and four-bedroom houses are getting snapped up as soon as they become available.''
He said a three-bedroom home in Mount Maunganui would fetch $700 a week.
According to the June quarterly report by the Ministry for Housing and Urban Development and Ministry of Social Development, the number of applicants waiting for public houses had jumped to 333, up from 281 three months before.
Salvation Army national director for accommodation Lynette Hutson said the pressure of living in transitional housing could have a massive impact on families' health and wellbeing.
''It is really a struggle for people to stay in a positive mental space when they have feelings of hopelessness. Like 'what am I going to do, I have no other options'. Then people get quite self judgemental because they feel like they are a failure, they feel they are no good, that they can't look after their families.''
Hutson said that could lead to depression, frustration and outbreaks of anger, which was not a good environment for children.
Tauranga's population growth meant all its housing was being soaked up, she said.
''So, of course, people are staying in the transitional housing longer and, no matter how fast government or private agencies build, it's going to be a long time before we catch up.''
Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Mike Bryant said the supply of affordable accommodation was tight across the country, including in Tauranga.
''This is especially the case when seeking housing for large families, such as Donna's. Since November 5, 2018, we have been supporting Donna and her family with transitional housing in the form of a standalone home to provide somewhere safe, warm and dry to live while more permanent housing can be found.''
He said the ministry would continue to offer support for the family to find more permanent housing.
Taxpayers pick up $9.6 million dollar tab
More people are staying longer in transitional housing with taxpayers picking up the tab but the government says it is doing all it can to address the crisis.
Data obtained from the Ministry for Housing and Urban Development by the Bay of Plenty Times under the Official Information Act showed from July 2016 to June 2019 the ministry spent $9.61m on transitional housing.
The five transitional housing providers in Tauranga who received funding included Emerge Aotearoa, Tauranga Community Housing Trust, Tauranga Moana Night Shelter, Te Tuinga Whanau and The Salvation Army. From July 2017 to June 2019 those providers in total offered 240 housing placements which could support up to four households per year.
Figures reveal the longest family stayed 111 weeks but due to privacy reasons, the ministry declined to name the provider.
Households could stay in transitional housing for about 12 weeks but could stay longer if they could not find a permanent place to live.
Funding and programme delivery deputy chief executive Scott Gallacher, in response to the OIA, he said more people than ever before were coming forward seeking accommodation.
He said there were a number of difficult circumstances regarding why some households required longer support. Those included unemployment or low incomes and some people may face a range of complex issues such as mental health, addictions, criminal history and family breakdowns.
Those could be considered as barriers for some landlords, he said, but the housing providers involved worked with those involved to help address issues.
''What is important though is that while households in transitional housing receive the support they need to help them find a long-term home, they are housed in warm, dry and safe accommodation and not in a car, garage or out in the open.''
''While we bring on additional public housing places, transitional housing will support people who urgently need housing in the meantime.''
He said it was the government's goal to increase the public housing supply by 6400 places nationally by June 2022 and 105 places were planned for Tauranga.
In October the Bay of Plenty Times reported from October 1, 2016 to June 30, 2019 the government spent more than $3.9m on 4026 emergency housing special needs grants in the Western Bay of Plenty.
That money funded 25,482 nights for 929 Ministry for Social Development clients at motels, backpackers and lodges.
• There are five transitional housing providers in Tauranga.
• Transitional housing provides short-term housing for individuals and families who don't have anywhere to live and have an urgent need for a place to stay.
• Households stay in transitional housing for about 12 weeks but can apply to stay longer. - Source Ministry for Housing and Urban Development