Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Govt agrees to emergency housing review actions

Cabinet has agreed to all 10 key actions from a review of the Emergency Housing system by the Ministry for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Ministry of Social Development’s (MSD).

Minister for Housing, Megan Woods said the review confirmed the Government’s view of the current system.

“Not enough houses have been built in the right places, for the right prices, and of the right types to meet people’s needs,” said Minister Woods.

“As a Government we have supercharged the addition of public houses (10,700 and counting), rebuilt the sector’s ability to build new public housing, invested in increasing the supply of affordable housing, cut red tape to enable more houses to be built, and are investing billions in infrastructure like pipes and roads to enable new housing.

“Encouragingly, the number of people in Emergency Housing has fallen every month over the last year, but there will remain a need for Emergency Housing until all the houses we need, are built.”

Emergency Housing was introduced in 2016 but was not designed to be a long-term option, the Minister said.

She said it was time to reset the system and improve how people enter Emergency Housing, how they are supported while there, ensure they have good quality accommodation, and increase support to help them exit.

“The review has been informed by our work in Rotorua, which has seen the numbers of people receiving an Emergency Housing Special Needs Grant, more than halve in a year and investment in supports for people in Emergency Housing.”

“Increasing supply of appropriate accommodation and wrap-around social and health support will be investigated for both Hamilton and Wellington.  Like Rotorua, these cities have a low number of affordable houses and high numbers of people in Emergency Housing. 

“Consultation with local agencies, iwi and Councils to consider appropriate solutions for these cities will get underway early in the new year, with Cabinet considering final proposals and a plan.

“A number of Iwi and Māori organisations have been developing solutions to housing insecurity in their communities. HUD and MSD will work with these Iwi to support these initiatives in areas of high demand.  Māori are disproportionally represented in Emergency Housing, and this work is a priority,” Ms Woods said.

One of the key changes of the Emergency Housing system review will be how people who come to MSD for help are linked into appropriate housing, and how they are supported by social services while they are there.

“We know many people in Emergency Housing have very complex needs. In order to help them move into transitional, or permanent housing we have extended intensive case management for those clients who require it in Emergency Housing,” said Minister for Social Development and Employment, Carmel Sepuloni.

“This case management is working and the review will increase this support to all clients requiring intensive case management through to 30 June 2024.

“MSD are also working on better entry pathways into housing support so that people are matched with the best option for them. This work will begin before Christmas with the piloting of a vacancy management tool for Transitional Housing.

“We will be introducing mutual obligations for both clients and Emergency Housing providers. This means quality standards for suppliers to ensure those who need to access Emergency Housing have a minimum standard of living conditions. We are also developing a resolution framework for the small group of people with poor behaviour in Emergency Housing.  

“There is a specific direction to MSD to introduce better and more consistent communication to clients so they are aware of their rights, and how to raise any issues they have with MSD,” she said.

Also announced today were changes to the Housing Support Products that can be used to help people stay in their private rentals, or to secure private rentals, and reduce the need for Emergency Housing. The main grants available under this programme are bond, rent in advance and rent arrears assistance.

“The improved Housing Support Products will be available from the end of the first quarter of next year and can be accessed by beneficiaries, superannuitants as well as lower-income workers who need support,” said Minister Sepuloni.

“This is a significant change from the existing programmes which have inflexible hard limits and often don’t meet the needs of people, meaning they can’t get into or end up having to leave private rentals they could otherwise have afforded to stay in with a little financial support.

“Alongside this we will pilot a new bespoke non-recoverable fund for some people in housing hardship (such as Emergency Housing). It will aim to help people access and sustain a private tenancy where current support is inadequate. This payment is separate to, but will support, the actions agreed in the Emergency Housing review,” she said.

The Minister said the Department will have the pilot up and running later in 2023.

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