This summer the Chronicle is bringing you another look at some of the best content of 2019. This story originally ran on July 31, 2019
Whanganui's "desperate" housing shortage has been laid bare before councillors by those on the frontline.
A hearing on the Whanganui District Council's draft Housing Strategy was held this week with 12 of the 38 submitters presenting to councillors.
"I have 25 years of frontline social work experience, and I've never seen a situation where there is so much of such a desperate need from the families that I'm working with," the Salvation Army's Scott Taylor-Moore said.
The Salvation Army provides transitional housing assistance for a period of 12 weeks to help people find private accommodation, although Taylor-Moore said almost everyone they're assisting goes past the 12-week period.
Taylor-Moore said it was a desperate situation.
"There's a bottleneck and no movement at all, the competition is at least 40 plus people applying for the same property," he said.
"At the moment there's an extinguishing of hope for those we're helping, there's just too many people applying for the same properties."
The council's Housing Strategy says Whanganui's population growth is the largest it's been since 1996, with an estimated increase of 700 new people per year.
Safer Whanganui created a "Housing Snapshot" document as part of the strategy in late 2018, to indicate where housing issues sat.
It shows over the last several years Housing New Zealand stock in Whanganui has dropped from 720 properties to 559 properties due to a decrease in demand, but that Housing New Zealand is now building more homes in Whanganui.
It also highlighted an increase in people needing social or emergency housing, an increase in the Housing New Zealand waiting list from 22 to 87 households in two years, and changing tenant legislation resulting in some landlords selling properties.
Many of the submissions echoed the findings.
Sharon Semple from the Whanganui Peoples Centre said housing is a huge issue for the people the agency helps.
"We've seen 748 clients this year and we have about three to four enquiries about emergency housing every day, which is increased in the last 12 months," she said.
Semple said the situation had got so bad that she and her colleagues had rented three houses for those in need, with four people living in each property.
"Some of our clients wouldn't even get a look in [for private rentals], we're talking homeless, detox, criminal convictions, mental health or bad credit," she said.
"Because of the need that's coming into the agency and the problem finding housing and the hours of work it takes to get emergency housing, it was easier for us to find rentals and house those people."
Semple said the Peoples Centre was looking at tiny house options for their clients, which council could assist in by making the "red tape" aspect of construction easier and quicker for builders.
Tina Hansen, who made a submission on behalf of Te Aranga Mai – Out of gate, said there was no accommodation available for those coming out of prison and that a large boarding house residence was not the answer to home her clients.
Councillor Rob Vinsen stepped away from his council seat to make a submission, and identified council-owned land at Carson St could be turned into social housing.
Vinsen suggested divesting the council's pensioner housing portfolio to a provider capable of increasing community housing and reinvesting the funds generated to address housing needs.
Vinsen also questioned if the cost to improve the district's housing situation was something the Whanganui ratepayer should front or if it should be a covered by taxpayer dollars.
A submission from Wai Ora Christian Community Trust suggested a holistic approach to fixing the housing issue by also focusing on employment and training.
Marama Dey, who spoke on behalf of the trust, said the group's vision is to create a factory in Whanganui which could produce 50 to 100 homes per year and employ up to 50 people over a two-year development period.
In a submission from Te Oranganui, CEO Wheturangi Walsh-Tapiata highlighted the need for partnership and collaboration between WDC and iwi in the strategy.
"This is the gap that Whanganui District Council could be taking leadership in. It's about influencing policy and national government but fundamentally when the rubber hits the road, it's about what are we going to do to create change in our community," Walsh-Tapiata said.
A Pathways submission was made by Jeremy Brockman, who recalled the level of housing when he moved to Whanganui five years ago.
"It was refreshing to see how people dealing with mental illness lived and it was a total contrast to Auckland.
"Thankfully housing in Whanganui is nothing like Auckland, however, I fear we are heading toward a similar situation because over the last five years I've seen concerning changes, like the hospital increasingly struggling to discharge people because of the lack of accommodation available post-discharge."
Other groups to verbally give submissions included Grey Power, Whanganui Regional Heritage Trust, Whanganui DHB, Whanganui Regional Health Network, and Women's Network.
During deliberations, mayor Hamish McDouall said the housing strategy had been brought forward in priority at the expense of the climate change strategy, which he viewed as slightly more important.
Councillor Philippa Baker-Hogan put forward a successful motion that council seeks iwi endorsement, support and strong involvement in action and implementation.
A motion from Councillor Helen Craig for the appointment of "housing strategy champion" from the council body was also passed.
The role will be appointed following October's local body elections.
In closing McDouall said significant work had gone into identifying ways and aspirations of what Whanganui's housing should look like.
"We want young people to be able to flat here, we want people with disabilities to live successfully and independently, we want people released from prison to get a fresh start and a fresh home, and most importantly we want people who might be struggling and might have had a few Tenancy Tribunal decisions go against them not be damned by not being able to get a roof over their head."
Councillors voted to adopt a final Housing Strategy and it's expected an initial action plan progress report will be presented to council in early 2020.