Housing crisis: 'Small glimmer of hope' in emergency housing spending figures - Salvation Army

There's a "small glimmer of hope" in the latest figures showing how much is being spent housing people in emergency accommodation, such as motels, the Salvation Army says.

Nearly $1 million is being spent every day on Emergency Housing Special Needs Grants, housing people with nowhere else to go, according to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development - $82.5 million in the December quarter.

Rents have skyrocketed in the past year, the nationwide median up 10 percent to $495 according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. Almost all of that rise came in the last few months of 2020 after a rent freeze enacted to help people through the COVID-19 economic crisis was lifted. 

At the same time, unemployment has risen - from 4 percent in early 2020 to 4.9 percent now (peaking at 5.3 percent in late 2020). 

 "There's certainly a lot of money needing to be spent to support people in emergency housing at the moment," Salvation Army senior policy analyst Paul Barber told The AM Show on Friday.

"We have more than 46,000 more people who are receiving Jobseeker Support and 75,000 more people who need welfare support... It's quite logical that housing needs will be one of the pressures they're going to experience, and that's what we're seeing."

But Barber says there is some hope in the new figures. They show a decrease in the number of Emergency Housing Special Needs Grants in the December quarter - down from 9823 in the three months to September to 8503, and spending dropping from $83 million in the September quarter to $82.5 million. 

The public housing supply is increasing, slowly but steadily. There are now 73,174 places - most through Kāinga Ora, with about 9500 through community providers. That's up from 68,000 two years ago. 

But demand for public housing is also rising, with 22,521 families now on the waiting list - up more than 6000 since the first lockdown in March 2020. At the same time, the number of homes being snapped up by investors who already own multiple properties is also going up, figures released by analysts CoreLogic on Thursday showed. 

"We really want to see more emphasis on building more public housing and ensuring that everything is done to get that number up," said Barber.

In the March 2020 quarter - prior to the level 4 lockdown - $54.1 million was spent on Emergency Housing Special Needs Grants.