Mother of sick baby 'scared' for future after Kāinga Ora allocates family uninsulated house with fire hazard

Lack of heating needed for her son (right) isn't the concerned mother's only worry - the home also had its power cut due to wiring inside the walls that had a high risk of catching on fire. Monica also suspects the house has a drug history.
Lack of heating needed for her son (right) isn't the concerned mother's only worry - the home also had its power cut due to wiring inside the walls that had a high risk of catching on fire. Monica also suspects the house has a drug history. Photo credit: Supplied.

The mother of a sick baby who was placed in an uninsulated home with faulty wiring by Kāinga Ora says she is scared for her family's health and future. 

Monica and her partner Reuben say they never expected to need the housing agency's help to find a place to live, but had no other option when they were both forced to stop working. 

But after being shuffled between accommodation four times in the past three months with their seven-month-old baby, who is suffering respiratory issues, Monica is speaking out. 

The last home, offered to them by Kāinga Ora as a permanent placement lacked insulation or heating, had faulty wiring in the walls which caused the power to be shut off due to a fire hazard and is suspected of being connected to drugs. 

"Their standards should be shaped around an individual family's needs," she told Newshub. "I'm hoping the same thing won't happen to others." 

Reuben was a chef working full-time and Monica was a part-time waitress when the pair met at work while she studied at AUT, completing a Bachelor of Business in HR and ER with papers in social sciences under her belt.  

Early last year the pair decided to rent a self-contained cabin placed on Reuben's family’s property to give them time to save up for their first home, with both incomes. 

On April 12, Monica discovered she was unexpectedly pregnant and suffered a severe case of hyperemesis which meant she could no longer work in hospitality.

She went to WINZ in Papakura to discuss any benefits she could access but learned she was not entitled to anything. If she wanted to get on jobseekers or sickness benefits, she would have to stop studying.

"I refused to do that and went to Studylink instead. They practically said the same thing but offered to help with food grants and accommodation costs." 

They relied on Reuben's income and struggled throughout the year. 

"I was in hospital so many times throughout my pregnancy at one point we were there nearly every week." 

Mother of sick baby 'scared' for future after Kāinga Ora allocates family uninsulated house with fire hazard
Photo credit: Supplied.

During that time, the couple took out small loans to help pay rent, bills and other weekly costs but fell into debt and could not afford to pay much at all.

Their son was born December 4 and has been in and out of hospital since birth.  

Monica could see the impact the cabin's environment was having on her son's breathing and overall health. 

"Our son was always sick and struggled to sleep because he would constantly wheeze. I knew the cabin was not suitable for him, but we did the best we could. It was not insulated properly and mouldy. I knew we needed to get out of there," Monica told Newshub.  

Reuben applied for a non-asset procedure, before losing his job due to COVID-19.. 

"We then decided that he was going to study and be a stay-at-home dad while I looked for work after I graduated in August this year."

After constant phone calls and appointments with WINZ, the couple got their first home on April 2 this year, a two-bedroom self-contained flat with a heat pump.

"We noticed a massive improvement in [our son's] health and only took him to the hospital twice while being there," Monica recounts. 

"During this time, I was constantly working on our housing application and attaining the documents needed to get our family at a top priority rating." 

But then the family-of-three were asked to move because WINZ said the contract had ended with the house, and they were asked to move into transitional emergency housing at Strive Community Trust in the beginning of June. 

The small 1-bedroom studio with a kitchenette and one bathroom triggered more problems for the baby's health.

"During our time at Strive, my son’s health worsened and we had to visit my GP nearly every week. My son continued to get sick and the transitional room we were in was not helping.

"I said I would accept any house, old or new anywhere in Auckland on the condition it was warm and safe for my son." 

On June 16 the family had a meeting with a representative from Kāinga Ora discuss their accommodation needs, and Monica emphasised her son’s medical problems 

Monica was excited to be offered the home in Wiri to live but was surprised to feel pressure to accept the offer without seeing inside. 

"She told me it was a one-house offer per family and stated that if I were to reject the house offer [my reason] would have to be due to a health safety issue," Monica tells Newshub. 

"My family would then have to be put back on the housing waiting list for who knows how long." 

The family ended their tenancy with a transitional house at Strive Community Trust on June 30 and signed the lease for the new home. 

"I only found out then that there was only concrete insulation in the floors. I expressed again my concern for my son’s health to which she replied, 'I wonder why they didn’t put you in a better house'.

"We were in a position where we had nowhere to go and signed the agreement." 

Monica was assured all Kāinga Ora properties met healthy home initiatives and was told floors and walls were insulated however not the ceilings. 

When she arrived at the Wiri house, she found it was without insulation in the ceilings and the walls, but did have concrete insulation on the floor and tampered power wiring - a fire hazard that if left could have burned the house down. 

She says her son was vomiting all through the night, and the freezing conditions made his sickness worse. 

When the fridge and washing machine was delivered, a worker pointed out that the door had been "marked". Monica says she then learnt from neighbours the house was used as a "crack house". 

Monica says two delivery workers told her the house has been "marked".
Monica says two delivery workers told her the house has been "marked". Photo credit: Supplied.

Her suspicions grew when she found small drug bags around the property and drug paraphernalia inside the hot water cupboard. 

"We need to be rehoused in a new, safe and warm house. I am really scared they are going to put us in a home that isn't suitable again and if I decline it we are back in the queue. I really don't want to get mucked around." 

When arriving at the problematic property in Wiri, she says she felt let down by the system in a time of need. 

On Wednesday afternoon, Monica told Newshub the family had been saved at the last minute but she remains concerned for their security and others who slip through the cracks.

Kāinga Ora area manager Tavai Karapani told Newshub on two occasions in early July an apology was issued to the family for the difficulties with the allocated property at Wiri and the inconvenience of them having to move out of the first home. 

Regarding the heating and power issues, Karapani said as the wiring inspection required both an internal check and a mains supply check, a lines company was needed to investigate. 

"This meant power needed to be suspended to the property and emergency accommodation was found for the family so it was not impacted by this," she said.  "As soon as the wiring matter was raised a contractor came to inspect the home and instructed our tenant to take appropriate steps." 

"As it is winter and this is a two-storey property it can be harder to heat however there is additional assistance to do this that can be provided through Kāinga Ora and also MSD. The home has floor insulation."

Tavani said "over a year ago" the then tenants were warned about cannabis use and there was no further problem.

"We will continue to work with the family to find them a suitable home." 

Housing Minister Megan Woods was unable to answer questions put to her by Newshub.