Coalition Government reveals plan to tackle emergency housing, to prioritise families with children 

In January, emergency housing cost the Government $24.5 million.
In January, emergency housing cost the Government $24.5 million.

The Government is implementing steps to try and reduce the number of Kiwis in emergency housing across Aotearoa.    

On Wednesday, the Coalition Government announced the establishment of a "priority 1" category for families with children in emergency housing with the hopes of moving them into social housing faster.    

"Emergency housing is one of the biggest public policy failures in New Zealand history. Under the last Government’s watch, thousands of children were consigned to grow up in motels," said Housing Minister Chris Bishop.   

The new category will mean that families with dependent children in emergency housing for more than 12 weeks will be put at the top of the social housing waitlist.    

Currently, those on the waitlist for social housing are classified into A or B priorities, determined by adequacy, suitability, affordability, accessibility and sustainability. 

Bishop said the new priority will take "sustained action and multiple years to get emergency housing back to being needed rarely and only for brief periods, but it's too important not to leave this in the too-hard basket".   

The priority 1 category will come into effect in April.    

"Unlike the last Government we are taking action. At the same time as introducing priority 1 we'll also be strengthening the verification processes for those entering emergency housing, reviewing eligibility settings and introducing new obligations," said Social Development (MSD) Minister Louise Upston.    

At the end of January 2880 households were in emergency housing and there were 3216 children in emergency housing. 

Of the 2880 households in emergency housing, 52 percent had children and 1665 had been on the waitlist for more than 12 weeks.  

It's unclear how many households with children have been on the waitlist for longer than 12 weeks but it appears to be a sizeable chunk.   

In January, emergency housing cost the Government $24.5 million. 

The waitlist to enter social housing has grown dramatically in recent years, rising from only 3800 applicants in June 2016 to 25,989 at the end of 2023.    

Those 25,989 applicants represent a need for more than 45,000 bedrooms. 

Coalition Government reveals plan to tackle emergency housing, to prioritise families with children 
Photo credit: The Spinoff

In 2020, National's then-housing spokesperson Nicola Willis - now the Finance Minister - admitted the party sold too many state houses while in Government previously. 

Bishop told RNZ in 2022 National would "build enough state and social housing so that there is no" waitlist. 

The Government is set to give councils freedom to opt out of housing density rulesm under which Labour directed cities to allow more townhouses and apartments.

Alongside the introduction of the priority 1 category, Upston said MSD staff assessing those applying for emergency housing will be "increasing their scrutiny of whether they have unreasonably contributed to their immediate emergency housing need, whether they have taken reasonable efforts to access other housing options and whether they have previously paid their emergency housing contribution.   

"The priority 1 category will apply to families with children who have been in emergency housing for 12 weeks or more, because we know that children in emergency housing for an extended period are most at risk of poor health and education outcomes.  

"This Government is committed to ending the large-scale use of emergency housing motels and returning them to a rarely and briefly needed last resort," added Associate Housing Minister Tama Potaka.   

"Solving emergency housing won't be easy and it won't happen immediately. Bold and radical steps will be required.   

"We'll be exploring a range of options including better support to prevent the need for emergency housing in the first place, as well as for those who exit," Potaka said.