Hunt launched for 'hidden homeless'

Alan Johnson of the Salvation Army (r), Otago Public Health Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman and economist Shamubeel Eaqub. Photo by Lynn Grieveson

Housing Minister Phil Twyford has released a report he commissioned into the housing crisis, saying it revealed a significant but unknown number of 'floating' households who were unable to access state, emergency or community housing.

Twyford announced officials would investigate creating a new system for recording and monitoring the number of homeless, including those who are 'floating' because they cannot access their own housing and were forced to live in cars, garages or in the overcrowded homes of friends and family.

The report, which was commissioned in late November from Shamubeel Eaqub, Alan Johnson and Philippa Howden-Chapman, cited figures from community housing groups showing eight or nine out of every 10 homeless people who approached them were turned away.

The stock-take found that 70 percent of the new households formed over the last decade were renters and that almost half of children were now living in rented accommodation. A fall in the number of state houses over the last two decades meant the proportion of renters in private rentals had risen from 60 percent in 1991 to 83 percent in 2013 when the last census was held. Rental properties were poorer quality than owner-occupied housing, which was a factor in the unnecessary hospitalisations of children (costing at least $350 million a year) and transience in schools.

Chapman Howden said one in two children in rental properties moved within the first nine months of their lives, making it more difficult for them to be vaccinated and registered for pre-schools, while principals of schools were noticing an increasing 'churn' of children through their schools. Just one in five children moved in their first nine months if their parents owned their own home.

Johnson, Eaqub and Howden-Chapman all called for a review of tenancy laws to give tenants more certainty and protection, along with a review of accommodation supplements and an increase in state house building.

Saying he had been warned to rein in the obscenities, Euqab told a news conference in the Beehive Theatrette: "The state of the housing market is a cluster.... well, you fill in the gaps."

He said the Government was not being ambitious enough with its plan to build 1,000 extra state houses a year and 100,000 Kiwibuild houses over the next five years.

He said the Government's fiscal responsibility rules dictating it reduce its net debt to 20 percent of GDP within the next five years (from 22 percent) had created a fiscal straight jacket.

"I would be borrowing shit loads," Eaqub said of the need for the Government to borrow to build many more state houses and affordable houses.

He said the Government needed to double its stock of state houses (currently 63,000) over the next decade and build 500,000 affordable houses, rather than the 100,000 planned. He added that the last decade of very low interest rates was the best possible time to borrow to invest in housing.

Twyford said he was still making a case to cabinet to increase the extra state houses being built from the 1,000 a year promised before the election to his own personal aim for 2,000 houses extra a year.

He had previously announced a review of tenancy laws and changes to previously tougher Housing NZ policies on evictions.