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Rising demand for social housing

Ministry of Social Development [MSD] figures for the first quarter of this year reveal that in March there were more than three times as many people on the social housing register in Masterton [150] than in Carterton and South Wairarapa combined [24 and 18, respectively].

Data for the same quarter for the past six years [see graph] also indicates that the number of people on the Masterton register is almost triple what is was in March 2019 [having peaked at 162 in March 2022], and that the number on Carterton’s register has overtaken South Wairarapa for the first time during this period.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development [MHUD] said there are many reasons why the numbers fluctuate.

“People may move out of one district to another, move in with family members, or find private rentals,” the spokesperson said.

“Social housing is not the only destination for people on the housing register; seasonal factors can also influence the movement of people and their housing options.”

One of the region’s social housing providers, Trust House [TH], currently has several social housing developments at various stages to address the increase, as is Kainga Ora, which recently returned to the region after a two decade absence.

TH chief executive John Prendergast believes several factors have led to the rise in demand.

The correlation between rapidly increasing house prices and private rental valuations has meant beneficiaries, low wage earners and those on a fixed income – such as pensioners – have found their percentage of total income spent on housing costs rising dramatically, and therefore the need to seek affordable housing has increased,” Prendergast said.

At the same time, Wendy Thornburrow – an organiser at St Mathews Church homeless day shelter in Masterton – said that she has seen an increase in the homeless population, although its unknown how much crossover there is between this group and those on the housing register.

“Currently, we average between 12 and 15 people in the shelter, and that can get as high as 25 people on some days,” she said.

“When we started before covid, we averaged between six to eight people.”

The shelter runs three days a week and provides a space for the homeless population to get a hot meal, shower, wash their clothes, watch TV, and connect with others in the community.

Thornburrow noted the social housing register only reflects those seeking accommodation, and so won’t capture homeless people who aren’t interested in a house.

“We have some people in our homeless community that, for various reasons, won’t seek accommodation; it could be that they have mental health problems or addictions,” she said.

“It is also a case of education and the fact that our homeless need support or someone to help get them into accommodation.

“I have recently been away for two and a half months, and when I came back, I noticed that even in that short time our intake had increased.”

Wairarapa police also keep an eye on the homeless population in Masterton and the rest of the region.

Area prevention manager Gill Flower said the homeless in Masterton tend to camp around the shops on Queen St at night and roam about the town during the day.

When resources are available, police officers will go to the day shelter to catch up with the homeless population, she said.

“We don’t go to enforce rules, but we go to help them if they need it, and sometimes we can just be company.”

Freddie Wilkie
Freddie Wilkie
Freddie Wilkie is a journalist at the Wairarapa Times-Age; originally moving from Christchurch, he is interested in housing stories as well as covering emergencies and crime.

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