Cyclone Gabrielle worsens Gisborne's housing crisis

By Samantha Gee for RNZ

Cyclone Gabrielle has made Gisborne's housing crisis even worse.

The massive storm damaged more than 170 homes which are either red or yellow-stickered.

The city suffers from a chronic shortage of rental accommodation - a Trade Me search shows eight properties available, five of them are one-bedroom listings.

Motels are full and there are more than 560 people on a waiting list for social housing.

A week on from the cyclone, those already desperate for somewhere to live are still struggling.

Manaaki Moves Trust housing navigator Deanna Puhipuhi is supporting a number of people, including a single-mum of two, who became homeless during the cyclone.

"Unfortunately, she was evicted from her emergency housing during the national state of emergency last week and she's currently living in her car with her tamariki," Puhipuhi said.

"What a devastating scenario for a family that's already dealing with a lot, plus having to deal with a cyclone, on top of being unable to move into the accommodation that they should have been in."

Puhipuhi said there was already a shortage of both emergency housing and long term housing in the region.

Ministry of Social Development figures from December showed there were 108 households in Gisborne living in emergency housing.

The number of people contacting Manaaki Moves for support to find somewhere to live since the cyclone had increased.

"It's definitely gonna be a lot tougher on our region," Puhipuhi said.

"We haven't really had the full picture of what it looks like in terms of all the houses that have been damaged, not only Gisborne, but the wider communities up the coast and out to Te Karaka. There's definitely going to be a massive impact and people needing more housing."

Locals helping clean up around houses in Gisborne after Cyclone Gabrielle.
Locals helping clean up around houses in Gisborne after Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo credit: RNZ

Tai Rāwhiti Civil Defence said there had been more than 300 inspections across the Gisborne District so far - with 12 homes red-stickered and 159 yellow-stickered and that number could increase as more inspections were done.

Rachel Cook's Gisborne home, which was surrounded by a thick layer of mud, initially got a red sticker, but it had since been downgraded to yellow.

"My main concern being a mum is just having a place to live. We have secured a place for three months which is great and I am not even thinking past that to be honest."

Cook's family managed to find somewhere to stay through the Gisborne grapevine - after "a friend told a friend told a friend" of their situation.

"A wonderful couple in Wellington are letting us have their holiday home for a few months and I can't thank them enough."

Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz agreed the district had a big problem.

"Housing levels in Tai Rāwhiti were already critical before Cyclone Hale and now Cyclone Gabrielle has struck us, so yes, even before this we had dire need."

Flooding seen from the air after Cyclone Gabrielle just outside of Te Karaka, near Gisborne.
Flooding seen from the air after Cyclone Gabrielle just outside of Te Karaka, near Gisborne. Photo credit: RNZ

It was going to get tougher.

"Our staff are again reviewing those red and yellow stickers and it is our expectation that we will need at least another 150 houses, because several homes were destroyed or damaged in this event," Stotlz said.

A decison on whether the government's Temporary Accommodation Service (TAS) will step in to help is expected in the coming weeks.

Temporary accommodation is used for medium to long-term support, providing households with accommodation while repairs are being undertaken following a natural disaster.

TAS national manager Al Bruce said the service was in pre-activation mode in the regions outside of Auckland affected by Cyclone Gabrielle.

Properties were still being assessed, and Bruce said the service would not know how many households needed support until this was complete.