Whanganui housing is heading to crisis point with social housing waiting lists ballooning, the private rental market being squeezed and people sleeping in cars.

The situation - which one district councillor describes as "a troubling picture" - is revealed in the Housing Snapshot Report compiled by Safer Whanganui.

It has prompted Whanganui District Council to begin to develop strategy covering all aspects of housing from emergency to home ownership.

The report found an increase in the number of people needing social and emergency housing in Whanganui while the Housing New Zealand waiting list has trebled in just two years from 22 to 87 households.

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That does not include 580 who have a "lower rating" and are "unlikely to be placed by HNZ anytime soon".

It also does not include people not registered with the Ministry of Social Development and who the report says "may be living in overcrowded accommodation, living in sheds, couch surfing between families or living in their cars".

It also found the number of private rental properties available had decreased with vacant homes being filled within two days to two weeks.

"A number of rental property managers said that demand is so high that they can afford to be picky with the tenants they put into properties," the report said.

Safer Whanganui's Lauren Tamehana said the report was just one snapshot of an ever-changing situation.

"There are so many changes that happen to people who have had to move out of properties or are just really struggling," she told council's strategy and finance committee.

"We've got one social agency we are working with that has been out visiting people that are sleeping in cars and different places around town that are struggling to get them sorted with accommodation."

Councillor Josh Chandulal-Mackay says the Housing Snapshot Report
Councillor Josh Chandulal-Mackay says the Housing Snapshot Report "paints quite a troubling picture".

Councillor Josh Chandulal-Mackay said the report "paints quite a troubling picture" and was what deputy mayor Jenny Duncan said was an "unintended consequence of growth".

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"We haven't had this situation before, not in my lifetime anyway," Duncan said.

"As much as we celebrate the growth in population we're now at the situation where every time we have growth in population we have an increase in rental housing and social housing problems.

"It is a actually a collective community problem and so we can only resolve it collectively."

Tamehana said there were things council could do and a Housing Strategy - which councillors voted to proceed with - would identify them.

She hoped to have something comprehensive by the middle of next year.

"Some of those solutions would be thinking about what we can do to advocate and lobby for different changes to social housing, right through to what we might do around some our land use and some of our plan changes."

These nine properties on Poynter Place are the first new state homes built in Whanganui since 1990. Photo/ Bevan Conley
These nine properties on Poynter Place are the first new state homes built in Whanganui since 1990. Photo/ Bevan Conley

Councillor Hadleigh Reid was surprised how quickly the problem had arisen and said council needed to act urgently.

"We've got land, we've got resources."

Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall said it was appropriate for council to get involved "considering we have quite a portfolio ourselves".

The council operates 275 pensioner units throughout the city.

But McDouall said housing issues in Whanganui were not as new as people thought.

"It's actually four or five of six years earlier emergency housing collapsed," he said.

Melissa Walsh is one of many Whanganui residents who have struggled to find a rental this year. Photo/ Stuart Munro
Melissa Walsh is one of many Whanganui residents who have struggled to find a rental this year. Photo/ Stuart Munro

And before there was a private rental shortage there had also been problems with housing prisoners, and slum landlords.

"It is something that has come through my door at least once a month since last year," McDouall said.

"Now we're at a point where in almost every one of these areas we're heading to a crisis point.

"So while we can't have every solution at this table what we can do it set aspirational goals which will inform out district plan, which will inform [CBD planning] and will inform how we deal with social housing."

Whanganui deputy mayor Jenny Duncan says the city's housing shortage is an unintended consequence of growth.
Whanganui deputy mayor Jenny Duncan says the city's housing shortage is an unintended consequence of growth.

Councillor Helen Craig agreed council should get involved.

"I think unfortunately council seems to have to get involved in a whole lot of social issues because the Government agencies are not taking the lead role.

"But also council seems to have a big role to play in economic and social future of our communities whether ratepayers think that's the role we should be in or not."

The Housing Snapshot Report data will also be shared with other social agencies.

It also showed as at June 30 this year Whanganui had 559 state homes which was down from 720 from a few years earlier.

This year Whanganui got its first new state house builds (9) since 1990.