Ministers can't guarantee more people won't end up homeless due to emergency housing changes

Families living in emergency housing will be pushed to the very front of the queue for a state house under a new priority 1 category announced by the Government on Wednesday. 

There are currently about 800 families with children who've been living in emergency motels for longer than 3 months - who'll be eligible to get first dibs on state houses under the new policy. 

But there'll also be a crackdown on who is allowed to access emergency motels - and the ministers in charge can't commit that more people won't end up homeless as a result.  

For the past four weeks, Shelby Smith, her mum and brother have been living in a motel. 

"It's been a bit of a struggle but it's been alright trying to deal with it... being together with mum is the main thing," she told Newshub. 

They were in a private rental and never missed a payment - but the rental was sold.  

They had to leave with nowhere else to go, spending their first night without a home in their car before getting into an emergency motel. 

"We're still here for another week or so before we're on the list to get a house," Smith said. "But there are so many people out there trying to find a house." 

Under a new Government policy, families who have been living in emergency accommodation longer than 12 weeks will be categorised as priority 1 on the social housing waitlist.  

"It is not good enough to have children who are already vulnerable growing up in motels and that is the end game here," Social Development Minister Louise Upston said. 

Upston, right, and Prime Minister Christopher Luxon.
Upston, right, and Prime Minister Christopher Luxon. Photo credit: Newshub.

Emergency motels are the end of the line, filled with families who can't find anywhere else to live. 

In January, there were almost 6500 people in emergency housing - nearly half of those were children. 

And the Government spent more than $24.5 million on emergency grants - almost $800,000 per day.

"It's $1 million per day that we're paying for families to live largely in misery and squalor and we're determined to fix the problem," Housing Minister Chris Bishop said. 

But coupled with the fast-track for families is a crackdown for everyone else. There will be increased scrutiny of applicants, including whether they have unreasonably contributed to their immediate emergency housing need; like being kicked out of a home, whether they have taken reasonable efforts to find another house and whether they have previously paid their emergency housing contribution. 

"Emergency housing will always be there for families who need it as a last resort but what we have now is a disgrace," Bishop said. 

Asked whether he can make the commitment the Government won't kick anyone out if they've got nowhere to go, Bishop said. "I've got to get into the Parliament." 

The emergency housing contribution was introduced in October 2020. It requires all those in emergency housing to pay 25 percent of any income they have as rent. 

From the time the payment was introduced through to June 2023 only $17 million of the 77 million charged had been paid - or 22 percent, figures obtained by Newshub under the Official Information Act last year showed. The ministry couldn't provide updated figures on Wednesday.