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In an apparent policy U-turn, Social Housing Minister Amy Adams told the Otago Daily Times the Government planned to increase the social housing stock in Dunedin by 40 within the next three years.
According to a Ministry of Social Development (MSD) document, it planned to add 30 single-bedroom and 10 double-bedroom properties.
The houses would be rented from the private market and not owned by MSD.
Ms Adams said it was also planning to provide 22 ‘‘transitional emergency housing places’’ in the city by the middle of the year.
These would support 88 households a year.
MSD hoped having the emergency places would decrease the number of people in desperate situations being put up in Dunedin motels.
Up until recently Housing New Zealand was selling state houses in Mosgiel.
It cited ‘‘low ongoing demand’’. In February, Building and Construction Minister Dr Nick Smith slammed a claim there was a housing crisis in Dunedin, saying it was ‘‘grossly overstated’’.
Dunedin social service agencies this week said the situation in Dunedin had grown steadily worse.
They said this was causing more people to sleep in cars or stay in the city’s night shelter.
They and Dunedin South MP Clare Curran said the lack of housing was splitting up families, causing children to miss school, leading to health problems and placing an already vulnerable part of the population under extra stress.
Presbyterian Support Otago chief executive Gillian Bremner said the organisation was seeing more homeless people now than any time since it started recording numbers back in 2015.
In March alone it saw 29 people who were homeless and seeking support, she said.
Mrs Bremner was worried the issue could become worse once winter arrived.
Sleeping in a car in the summer months was bad enough without having to deal with freezing temperatures.
Dunedin Night Shelter Trust chairman Dave Brown said the start of this year had been ‘‘very busy’’ and people were staying at the shelter longer because they could not find any alternatives.
In the period from January to March, 69 people had stayed a total of 253 bed nights, Mr Brown said.
Ms Curran was surprised when told of the Government’s plan to combat the situation.
‘‘What it tells me is there is a problem in Dunedin, it has been identified and the Government wants the problem to go away.’’ The policy was a ‘‘complete reversal’’ of the Government’s past position and she believed it was no coincidence it had waited to election year to act.
However, the magnitude of the problem meant she was not sure the increase would be enough.
The action comes as she has dealt with six families — which included a total of 16 children — in desperate need of housing in the last few weeks.
MSD housing deputy chief executive Scott Gallacher said it was working alongside two Dunedin providers to find 22 additional emergency housing places, with the goal of having them available mid-year.
‘‘We’re supporting these providers with a rental subsidy and funding for tenancy management and support services to help move those in need into sustainable accommodation.’’ The extra houses could be vacant crown properties, or leased, or bought from the private market.
In the meantime it was putting some families up in motels.
‘‘The use of motels has risen as we’ve worked hard to ensure people have a roof over their head when they have nowhere else to go. ‘‘Motels are never ideal but having people sleeping on the streets, in cars, tents or overcrowded homes is even less desirable.’’
The Social Housing Quarterly Report released yesterday showed the Government spent $8.8 million on housing homeless people in motels in the past three months, up from $7.7 million in the previous quarter.
That was well beyond the initial annual budget of $2 million.
The report showed the number of people waiting for a house rose from 4771 to 4865 in the past three months, an increase of 2%. That is the highest level since MSD took over the social housing register in mid-2014.
An MSD spokeswoman said it planned to reduce the number of four-plus bedroom properties in Dunedin.
However, there was no fixed number for how many it wanted to sell, she said.
In a statement provided to the ODT, Ms Adams did not deny there was an issue in Dunedin.
The increases in Dunedin were part of national targets and the Government recognised the need for more emergency housing.
This was why it was putting $354 million towards securing 2150 transitional social housing places across New Zealand.
Salvation Army executive ministry leader David McKenzie was pleased the Government was going to offer emergency housing.
‘‘Whether that will make a huge difference in the end I am not sure,’’ Mr McKenzie said.
‘‘But it’s a good start.’’