The lounge is cramped with two bunk beds and an old sofa pushed up against the wall. A small fridge, sink and tiny convection oven make up the kitchen, which is an arm's-length away. One bedroom and bathroom complete the unit, which a mother of three has been trapped in for one year. Welcome to the world of emergency housing where Tauranga families are living in motels, holiday parks and camping grounds around the city. Reporter Carmen Hall talks to the people and the government department and reveals how much it has cost taxpayers in the past three months.
The Government's motel tab for Tauranga's homeless has hit a record $1 million in three months, with one holiday park fielding more than six queries a day from families seeking somewhere to live.
The crisis has been blamed on skyrocketing rents and a shortage of public housing, with a pregnant solo mum telling the Bay of Plenty Times she considered giving up her unborn baby when she was stuck in a motel, before she secured a home for $510 a week.
Figures from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development show the bill for Tauranga emergency accommodation providers including motels, lodges and backpackers from April 2019 to June reached $1m in 860 emergency housing grants, up from $736,286 and 690 emergency housing grants in the first quarter of the year.
Data also reveals over the same timeframes the waiting list for state houses has jumped from 281 to 333 applicants.
Silver Birch Holiday Park manager Sharon Makai said the park was fielding more than six queries a day from families looking for somewhere to live.
However, they had to start vetting Ministry for Social Development beneficiaries due to damage such as broken windows, smoke burns to furniture and holes in walls.
She said the ministry would cover some damages but the holiday park had to pay the rest.
The Bay of Plenty Times requested under the Official Information Act a breakdown of all costs and damages that emergency housing providers had claimed for in Tauranga.
More than half of Silver Birch Holiday Park accommodation was rented to ministry clients and Makai said its longest resident had been there nearly two years.
Lily Arabin, seven months pregnant with her second child, said she considered putting her unborn baby up for adoption out after spending about three weeks in a motel, which the ministry paid $1300 a week for.
She said the stress of finding a home was depressing and increased her anxiety.
Fortunately, Arabin secured a rental in Papamoa for $510 a week but said ''we are going to be poor as but I will have to make it work''.
She said the ministry paid $230 a week towards her rent.
''I am paid the maximum accommodation allowance for a person with one child. It is really tight but if some unexpected expense comes up I'm screwed.''
The 28-year-old said she had connected with other young mothers who were struggling to find homes and one friend was still homeless.
Meanwhile, another mother who asked not to be named because she felt embarrassed, said her older children were sleeping in bunks in the lounge of the one-bedroom unit she rented.
When the Bay of Plenty Times visited she said the kids were trapped inside as it was not safe them to go outside because the area was not enclosed.
''They feel like they are in jail and I feel like I just want to hide.''
She had been in the accommodation for a year and paid $410 a week for one bedroom, a makeshift kitchen and tiny lounge - which left her about $100 a week for food.
Salvation Army Tauranga community ministries manager Davina Plummer said living in a motel could have a significant impact on families.
''Everyday stresses are increased, severe tensions are put on relationships and establishing or maintaining a healthy routine and structure becomes difficult.''
She said housing was limited in Tauranga and families, singles and couples across all age brackets were equally struggling with the rising costs of rentals.
''Those with mental health needs or with pets are also discriminated against.''
The Salvation Army had 18 transitional houses, which were full, and she was aware of people in motels and many others sleeping in cars, overcrowded garages or at camping grounds.
Ministry regional commissioner Mike Bryant acknowledged motels were not a long-term solution and far from ideal for someone with nowhere to live.
''We're trying to help but if it's between sleeping outside, in a car, garage, an overcrowded situation or a motel, we consider the motel preferable. At any given time, there are many families often with high needs and complex situations, waiting for public housing.
''We know the housing shortage is making life tough for some people all over the country – the Bay of Plenty is no exception.''
Public housing provider Accessible Properties has 1146 homes in Tauranga. Seven are vacant and being refurbished between tenancies.
Tauranga general manager Vicki McLaren said 15 more homes were currently under construction, with a further 25 homes in the pipeline.
She said Tauranga was a growth centre but was one of the most unaffordable cities in NZ.
''It is imperative we act to ensure the lack of housing doesn't undermine the city socially and economically.''
A Housing New Zealand spokesman said the provider had 199 state homes in Tauranga and had decided to regrow the portfolio in the city after Accessible Properties acquired 1124 in 2017.
Housing New Zealand also planned to add 150 homes in the Tauranga District by 2022, he said.
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment figures show the mean weekly rent in Tauranga in July this year was $495.
The ministry started compiling rental bond data records in 1993 and the July mean weekly rent at that time in Tauranga was $153.
Tauranga Rentals owner Dan Lusby said Tauranga was always going to be the city to live in if people did not have to be in Auckland for work, so the pressure for housing will continue.
''I don't believe it will ever stop. What dictates what rents will be are how much people are paid. Pay rates will go up so the rental market will follow suit.''