Porirua woman says change in Government's emergency housing costs will make her family homeless

A woman who escaped an abusive relationship says she and her four children will be forced out of their emergency accommodation and into a car, as a change in Government policy will make her housing unaffordable. 

From Monday people who are in emergency housing - which is usually just a single motel room -  for longer than a week will have to pay 25 percent of their income - the same cost as those in social housing with multiple bedrooms.

Porirua woman Marina fled an abusive relationship during lockdown and has been living in a motel room with her four children since May - it's been paid for by the Ministry of Social Development's emergency housing scheme.

But with the rules changing, Marina says 25 percent is too expensive. 

"I'd rather stay in the car with my kids and have that money go on them, than have to pay all that money for us to still be crammed up in a room together anyway," she told Newshub. 

The Ministry of Social Development says she'll have to pay $203 a week.

She says the situation has been "horrible".

"When you have teenage kids they need their own space. We've tried to make do with what we've got."

And with her family and friends already living in overcrowded houses, she is running out of options.

"I've never lived in a car before, it's just crazy that we're going to do that this weekend because of this Government announcement."

The four children are aged between five and 17, and one has special learning needs. 

Marina said landlords refuse to rent them a three-bedroom house, and a four-bedroom house is too expensive. 

"I'd tried my best to find alternatives for us, but just haven't had any luck. This added pressure from the Government right now is horrible. 

She says it is "unfair to have to pay" the same for one bedroom as others do for an entire house.

But MSD's regional director, Jamie Robinson, says the intention of the policy is to put them on the same footing.

"Marina's weekly emergency housing contribution will be based on 25 percent of her net income from her job plus 25 percent of her family tax credits for her first child, significantly less than market rent in her area."

He says Marina is on the social housing register and MSD is working to get her into long-term accommodation.

The Emergency Housing Contribution was announced by the Government back in February, but the March start date was delayed because of COVID-19.

The Ministry says case managers are talking and working with clients to support them with the change, but this is not Marina's experience.

"To say that case managers are working closely with me is a lie. I send emails and texts with no response and the only time I do hear from them is when it's time for an extension," she told Newshub. 

Robinson says if paying the emergency housing contribution creates serious hardship for anyone, the Ministry encourages people to talk with them about their situation so it can make sure they're getting all the financial support they can.

Demand Increasing

Canterbury saw one of the sharpest spikes in demand during that period, rising from 504 grants to 1221. In Wellington demand rose from 1016 to 1633. 

Porirua Mayor Anita Baker has witnessed this surge. 

"It's a massive problem for Porirua. There's only one motel left that's not being used by MSD. We've got a huge number of houses with 14 or 15 people in them, and people with nowhere to go."

She believes the Government's emergency housing charge will really hurt those already struggling.

"A lot of them are not on great wages as it is, so 25 percent of that is taking food away from families, and I'm concerned they've set that quite high."

She says it should be a more flexible and tailored approach. 

"I get they have to pay, but if they can only pay five percent then make it five percent. I don't think you can have a set rule for emergency housing. 

"We can't have more and more kids getting sick and people living on the street."

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardren is defending the charge. 

"We'd long flagged that that was coming.. Firstly it's the only part of social housing we have where there isn't some kind of contribution to housing."

When asked about Marina's situation, the Prime Minister said it's "absolutely not" the desired outcome. 

"I would say to her - please make use of the housing that's been offered. 

"The reason it's a percentage is so that people will still have money to live on as well as making a contribution to their housing costs."