A whanau found themselves homeless during the last school holidays. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Family seeking formal apology after letdown

ALEYNA MARTINEZ
aleyna.martinez@age.co.nz

A Masterton woman says she is only learning what anxiety is with the prospect of being homeless in 90 days.

Joy Fitzgerald, a stay-at-home mother, and her partner Billy-Jack Nepia lived in their rental property for 18 months before medical conditions forced them to notify the landlord his property was uninhabitable because of a mould problem.

In May 2020, Fitzgerald developed severe eczema and Nepia and one of their two daughters developed asthma.

In June, the couple reached a breaking point when Fitzgerald required a steroid injection for her skin.

They decided then to inform the landlord of the mould problem.

Because of covid-19, he told them there was not much he could do.

But, on the morning of September 12, a council worker showed up at their home to assess it.

He too found it officially “uninhabitable”.

That evening, the landlord served the de-facto couple a seven-day notice to leave the property and said the mould problem was “environmental”, meaning their fault.

“His wife told us they had found water coming though bricks in the house structure – which was causing the condensation,” Fitzgerald and Nepia said.

On September 18, the couple were handed their bond back and were made to understand they would have to start looking for a new home.

After two weeks in transitional housing, which was given to them by Supporting Families Wairarapa, their landlord still had not finished renovations.

After that fortnight, they were then told by the Ministry of Social Development they did not meet the criteria for being placed in a transitional home and were effectively made homeless as a result.

The family packed their belongings into their two cars while they waited at Work and Income New Zealand’s Masterton office for a day before they were again put back into transitional housing.

This happened during the school holidays and the couple had five of their children staying with them at the time.

The couple said it was unfair that their family had been made homeless temporarily in order to qualify for help from the ministry.

As a result of the two-week ordeal, Nepia said he was let go from his job as a casual worker at Capital Precut Solutions.

“If we were not a whanau that was going to voice this, then there could be a whanau out there that are still sleeping in their cars because they’ve got nowhere to go,” Fitzgerald said.

Work and Income has informally apologised to them, but Fitzgerald said she was seeking a formal apology.

In a statement to the Times-Age from MSD regional commissioner Katie Brosnahan, the agency placed the onus of the family’s welfare on the landlord.

“We understand that Joy and Billy-Jack identified some issues with the communications to them about the process to secure accommodation and we met with them on Monday to hear their concerns.

“They understand that their landlord did not follow the proper process and that when we became aware of their situation, we acted quickly to secure accommodation for them with SFW.

“We are working with SFW to strengthen our partnership and prevent future misunderstandings as we regret any situation where processes across organisations lead to additional stress for clients.”

The couple said it was hard to find a new home – and time was running out.

“We go to all the viewings, apply with 20 other people and keep getting declined.”

They have also put themselves on the waiting list for Trust House but were told there that the waiting list was long and not to put all their hopes on getting a home that way.

Supporting Families Wairarapa said they were happy with the support work they had provided for the family and had continued to advocate for them to obtain a new home.

The Times-Age has contacted the landlord but did not receive a response at the time of publication.



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