NZ’s hous­ing is­sue ‘worst in world’

Waikato Times Weekend - - NEWS - HENRY COOKE

New re­search in­di­cates New Zealand has some of the worst rates of home­less­ness in the de­vel­oped world.

At the last cen­sus in 2013 there were roughly 41,700 Ki­wis who were ‘‘se­verely hous­ing de­prived’’ – about 1 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

Us­ing data from the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment (OECD), a Yale study has com­pared the sta­tis­tics to those from other de­vel­oped na­tions, which put New Zealand on top of the list on a per-capita ba­sis – al­though the re­search notes sig­nif­i­cant com­pa­ra­bil­ity is­sues thanks to the dif­fer­ing ways each coun­try mea­sures home­less­ness.

Labour’s hous­ing spokesman Phil Twyford says this re­search shows we have ‘‘the worst level of home­less­ness in the world’’.

He also be­lieves the num­ber will have gone far higher in the last four years.

‘‘We know that the hous­ing mar­ket is much tougher now. There is an acute hous­ing short­age, Hous­ing New Zealand’s wait­ing list has blown out, and anec­do­tally people like the Sal­va­tion Army are say­ing they have never seen home­less­ness this bad,’’ Twyford said.

Fig­ures re­leased on Thurs­day showed the Govern­ment spent a record $12.6 mil­lion in the last three months pay­ing for short­term seven-day mo­tel stays for those in des­per­ate need, up from $8.8m in the first three months of the year.

And Hous­ing New Zealand num­bers out yes­ter­day showed 5353 suit­able ap­pli­cants on a wait­list for so­cial hous­ing, up from 3877 at the same time last year. Al­most 3700 of those were top pri­or­ity and con­sid­ered ‘‘at risk’’.

Al­most half of those on the list are Maori and an­other 2400 ap­pli­cants had chil­dren.

Both the Greens and Labour ar­gue that in­stead of spend­ing money on mo­tel stays the Govern­ment should pri­ori­tise build­ing more state houses.

Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Paula Ben­nett, who was so­cial hous­ing min­is­ter un­til late-2016, said yes­ter­day that ‘‘in hind­sight’’ the Govern­ment could have acted ear­lier on emer­gency hous­ing.

‘‘We had no idea it would ever be this big. No Govern­ment had ever picked up the bill for this. No Govern­ment has ever funded emer­gency hous­ing,’’ Ben­nett said.

So­cial Hous­ing Min­is­ter Amy Adams said the Govern­ment had stepped up the re­sponse to the ris­ing need.

‘‘Win­ter is see­ing an in­crease in the num­ber of people need­ing sup­port. Our pri­mary fo­cus is get­ting help to those who need it,’’ Adams said.

The OECD data that showed New Zealand as the worst coun­try for home­less­ness has com­pa­ra­bil­ity is­sues. Dif­fer­ent stud­ies treat home­less­ness dif­fer­ently.

The ‘‘1 per cent’’ fig­ure for New Zealand in­cludes those who are liv­ing in tem­po­rary ar­range­ments such as a se­verely crowded friend’s house or a board­ing house.

Just 4197 – or 0.1 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion – were lit­er­ally sleep­ing in the streets or in their cars when the 2013 cen­sus was taken.

Yet New Zealand is not alone in us­ing this wider def­i­ni­tion of home­less­ness: Aus­tralia, Ger­many, and many other OECD na­tions also look at more than just those sleep­ing rough.

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