Revealed: Emergency housing tenants owe government over $60m in unpaid rent

Newshub can reveal emergency housing tenants owe the government more than $60 million.

Rent was introduced on the scheme three years ago to ease the burden on the taxpayer. But just 22 percent of those households have paid.

State houses will soon emerge from the ground at Cannons Creek in Wellington. Chris Hipkins was there to give the site an inspection.

Demand for state houses is through the roof - there are currently 24,717 applicants on the waitlist.

"If the last Government had built houses at the rate that we are building them now, we would not have a waiting list," Hipkins said.

Many of those on it are currently in emergency housing - motels, holiday parks, and other accommodation commandeered by the government.

Hipkins said there are "far too many" people in emergency housing at the moment, but didn't have the exact number.

We checked and as of July this year, there are 3978 adults in emergency housing, and 3576 children. That's a total of 7554.

"We certainly need to build more and we need to build them faster," Hipkins said.

Until that's done, emergency housing it is - and it's not free either.

There is a rent called an 'Emergency Housing Contribution', introduced in October 2020. It requires all those in emergency housing to pay 25 percent of any income they have as rent.

But figures obtained by Newshub under the Official Information Act show there's more than $60m unpaid by emergency housing tenants. Only $17m has been paid.

"These are some of our most vulnerable communities. People who would otherwise be living in cars and on the street," Hipkins said.

"Pushing people who are already living below the poverty line into further hardship when they have no home is unfair," said the Green Party's social development spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March.

"Continuing to house people that don't pay their bills while others languish on waitlists with nowhere else to go, that's a failure in values on behalf of this Government," ACT leader David Seymour said.

The arrears aren't treated as debt by the Ministry of Social Development but it still keeps a record of it. So what happens if they can't pay it back or don't pay it back?

"Look, that's a process we work through. We have a debt-to-government process," Hipkins said.

"When people aren't even able to afford enough kai to put on the table, they can't meet the cost of emergency housing contributions which is why we need to get rid of them," Menéndez March said.

"Everybody makes a contribution towards their accommodation costs," Hipkins added.

This state housing development was just one of the stops Hipkins made on the campaign trail today. There were also babies. Not just one but baby after baby and Hipkins seemed to have the touch.

Two weeks of the campaign down, four to go. Labour will be hoping the baby whisperer is also the vote whisperer. 

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