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Auckland's escalating rents are driving some beneficiaries and other low income earners out of town.
Jillene Yansen, a 60-year-old grandmother who is on a benefit because of arthritis, has moved out of a Glenfield house she was renting at $370 a week to a one-bedroom farm cottage up a metal road 13km northwest of Silverdale to reduce her rent to $275.
Benefit advocates and budgeting agencies say others are moving from high-cost areas of Auckland to find cheaper rentals in the west and south.
The Real Estate Institute says median rents across Auckland have risen by 37 per cent since the maximum rates of accommodation supplement were last changed in April 2005.
Rents have risen by 39 per cent on the North Shore, from $332 to $460 a week for a three-bedroom house, while the maximum subsidy has been fixed at $225 for a family or $145 for a single adult such as Ms Yansen.
Auckland Central Budgeting Service manager Pam McKenzie said families were sleeping in cars, garages and on friends' couches because they could not afford to rent by themselves.
"I think in time we are going to have to look at increasing the accommodation supplement," she said.
Ms Yansen, who has nine adult children and six grandchildren, had only $50 a week left over after her rent in Glenfield for food, power, doctor's bills and other expenses.
She received an accommodation supplement and Temporary Additional Support (TAS), a top-up that is supposed to be only for three months to give beneficiaries time to increase their income or reduce their costs.
She said Work and Income staff asked her to cut her housing costs every time she went in to renew her TAS.
"I had my name down for a Housing NZ house. I have gone to the local MPs to see if they could help. I have gone to everything and everywhere possible," she said.
"I moved out and lived for four months in a tent in the back yard of the property I had been living in. Some people I know moved in and I moved into the tent."
But that still didn't get her a state house, so last month she found the farm cottage on the internet. She can't afford a landline and there is no cellphone coverage except at a high point up the road.
Ironically, she still can't afford to eat properly because her accommodation supplement has been cut. She now has $80 a week after her rent, but has higher petrol costs even though she goes out only once a week.
"I don't eat breakfast and I don't really eat lunch, and just have a tea," she said.
"One advantage of being out here is that it wouldn't really matter if you got your power cut off because your friends are not going to see you, and you can't smell other people's food cooking thinking, oh, they're lucky to have that."
Work and Income agreed yesterday to pay for a landline rental and some of Ms Yansen's medical costs. Regional director Blair McKenzie said the agency did not expect people to move "where it is not feasible or appropriate for them".
"There is nothing to suggest that we asked Ms Yansen to move or to leave Glenfield."
- By Simon Collins of the New Zealand Herald