7 kids, 1 bedroom and little hope

Kaeo house
Kaeo house

A Northland mother and seven children are sharing a one-bedroom house this winter, using the dryer to keep warm at night.

The home is missing windows, insulation and heating. Emily Rikona says the dryer is all they have, as the nights approach freezing and the house grows damp.

"It's got to be on all night to keep us warm, otherwise we're all going to freeze in here," she says.

Ms Rikona and her family live off the land. Her older sons do the hunting and fishing, while her daughters gather water from the nearby creek. They use that water to cook, clean and drink.

"We have to drag water up and down the creek like we live in 1902," says Ms Rikona.

Ms Rikona and her children didn't always live like this. They share their derelict home in Kaeo because their last one burned down before Christmas last year.

They were tenants in the Housing New Zealand (HNZ) property for 12 years. The fire destroyed everything they owned.

"We lost everything," Ms Rikona says. "My husband was a boxer. I lost his golden gloves. It's irreplaceable. Everything is irreplaceable."

Ms Rikona believes HNZ has failed her since. She was told they couldn't rebuild her house because too many properties were on the same land. Instead she'd have to apply for a replacement -- and seven months on, she's still waiting.

"This is not the way it's supposed to be, I'm damned sure," she says. "When your home burns down, you [shouldn't] end up like this seven months later."

But HNZ says it's done all it could.  It offered Ms Rikona three different properties and she turned them down because she felt they were too far away.

"After the fire, we made immediate contact with Ms Rikona and began the process of transferring her to another HNZ property," HNZ said in a statement. "Kaeo is a small township and there are no vacant properties available."

Ms Rikona says she has good reason to turn down other towns. Her kids are settled in local schools, and she's worried about gangs elsewhere in Northland.

"They tried to give me a home in Kaikohe, Kaitaia. They did do that. But I'm not living there," Ms Rikona says.

"My whole wellbeing is here. My children go to Whangaroa College and the primary school."

It's a snapshot of the pressures on New Zealand's social housing stock, particularly in rural New Zealand.

HNZ has just three vacant properties to cover the whole Far North District.  None of them meet Ms Rikona's needs.

The social housing agency says it is still looking. But in the meantime, Ms Rikona says her options are few.

"Because we have nothing. We were left with nothing and the books were closed on us, and this is how we've been living."

Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis says her family is not alone.

"This is the face of homelessness in Te Tai Tokerau," says Mr Davis. "But they're not the only people up here in Tai Tokerau that are living like this."

Regardless, he believes their needs are urgent.

"The first priority is just the health and safety of the whanau," says Mr Davis. "Get them into a house and then sort out the myriad of issues after that."

Community groups and the local runanga (part of the Ministry of Health) have offered to help however they can, but blankets and food can only go so far. What the family needs most is a place to call home.

Habitat for Humanity New Zealand has since opened a donation page for the Rikona family.

"Habitat for Humanity believes everyone should have a decent place to live, and is working to support this family," the organisation says.