The needs of state housing applicants

Yesterday a wee article came up in the Boy of Plenty Times. It’s a smallish regional newspaper, and there were some big stories yesterday, so it just slipped under the radar a bit. It’s important, though. It talks about the issues facing applicants for social housing in Tauranga and the Western Bay of Plenty, and those issues are a big deal for those on the waiting list.

Many of the applicants are very vulnerable groups – single parents with multiple children, people with long-term health issues, homeless people – and the issue is bad enough that the government, amidst plans to sell off social housing, is looking to purchase 90 more houses in the area to accommodate people.

Those purchases are just plans for the next two to three years at this stage, and with winter looming the problem is more immediate than the government proposal will deal with. 139 applicants are on that list, and many of them are living in the homes of relatives or friends in overcrowded conditions, or in their cars, or on the streets. Winter means the risk of illness increases in these situations, and for many of these people illness is a crisis.

Single-parent families have enough to deal with without the problems that the illnesses that winter and overcrowding can bring. It’s worse, though, for people living on the Supported Living Payment. These people are have serious long-term illnesses, and getting sick can be catastrophic for them.

As the article says, the government needs to be thinking very seriously about the amount being paid to beneficiaries, so that they can afford to get into private rentals. Or it needs to provide adequate state housing so that those it pays so little to can live in a house rather than their car or a tent. That those are real situations that people find themselves in, rather than silly hypotheticals, is shameful in a country where we have enough resources to house everyone.

There also needs to be a willingness to make state housing work for the people that need it. The standard three-bedroom state house will not work for everyone, particularly those living alone and those with disabilities that need modifications to their homes to make them accessible. One-bedroom state houses should be more common where need dictates, and the government needs to be really responsive to the needs of people with various disabilities. A wheelchair fit-out isn’t cheap, but in a world where people can’t afford their own homes to modify, and getting an accessible private rental is near impossible, the state needs to step up and care for these people.

State housing is a disaster in the current political climate, where sell-offs are king. It creates an environment in which people with serious needs are failed with alarming regularity. We can do better.

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