Samantha Salter has been looking for a house to rent in Blenheim for over a year.
She has been placed in transitional housing, but looks at rentals every week in search of something safe and permanent for her four children.
Salter said she knew Marlborough was having a “housing crisis” before she left Australia in July last year, but she “didn’t think it was as bad as people were saying”.
She is one of 200 people on the Marlborough Social Housing Register. In 2015, there were 13 people on the waiting list.
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“There aren’t a lot of listings here in Marlborough, and they go so fast… sometimes they get 60 requests for just one house,” said Salter.
“And it’s kind of first come, first served, but people who offer more rent or more deposit will always get the place. It’s crazy.”
After breaking up with his partner, Salter and his four children returned to Marlborough to be closer to their family, sleeping in his sister’s living room to begin with.
The young family then spent eight months in the former Department of Social Development motel in Springlands, now called Blenheim Emergency Transitional Housing Service (BETHS), before one of the department’s single-family homes became available.
“But it’s still a transition, they could still move us around, depending on who needs what,” Salter said.
“Every week I go to tours, every week I get notifications on Trade Me for new places, and I apply for these … It’s a lot, driving to these houses every week, this take a lot of time.
“I only have one income but I have good credit and good references and all that. There are people with bad credit, they wouldn’t stand a chance.
She believed that the stiff competition for rentals often encouraged landlords to charge high rents.
“It depends if you have nice people, who put in $ 400 a week for a three bedroom, while some people ask for $ 500 or $ 600 because they know people are going to pay it. For a single mother with four children, that’s a lot to spend on rent. But I would pay it, just for that stability.
“Families really have the short end of the stick, because two working people can pay for a four bedroom house if they want and leave three empty rooms. “
The number of homes for sale in Marlborough had also fallen over the past year, with 162 homes listed in August, down 36.3% from August 2019.
This was a 13-year record high for the total Marlborough stock, according to realestate.co.nz figures released on Tuesday. Eight other regions also recorded record lows.
Spokeswoman Vanessa Taylor said the country’s “cramped rental market” is likely to continue, given the country’s long-term housing shortage, a growing population topping 5 million this year and over Kiwis returning home due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Figures from the Ministry of Social Development showed 132 people registered in the social housing register in June 2019, compared to 200 in June this year.
Prior to 2016, the region’s register had never exceeded 30.
Christchurch Methodist Mission Director Jill Hawkey, whose organization helped run BETHS in partnership with Crossroads Charitable Trust, said homelessness in Blenheim barely existed 10 years ago.
Today, the city had one of the highest per capita homelessness rates in the country.
She highlighted the FirstHomes initiative as a contributing factor, launched in Blenheim in 2013, which offered first-time homebuyers the opportunity to purchase an “unnecessary state house”.
At the time, Marlborough was seen as a low demand area, and the program was aimed at freeing up capital, investing in new state houses in high demand areas like Auckland and Christchurch, Hawkey said.
New Zealand’s housing stock in Blenheim has grown from 434 properties in 2012 to 405 in 2017.
The number of families asking for help has started to increase. People registered in the social housing register were assessed as eligible for social housing, but had not yet been placed in a public home.
As demand increased, the cost of renting also increased, Hawkey said.
Marlborough’s median rent was $ 350 per week in 2016, but reached $ 420 in February of this year.
Those on the registry often competed with more than 15 other rental applicants and found the few places advertised “consistently totally unaffordable,” she said.
“So why is Blenheim, which has the second highest non-metropolitan GDP per capita in the country after Taranaki, unable to support its own families?” “
Hawkey pointed out that Marlborough’s growing population was a contributor.
Hawkey said the expansion of Marlborough’s wine industry has resulted in an increase in the workforce, with around 2,100 full-time skilled workers and nearly 1,000 foreign seasonal workers joining the regional industry. over the past few years, everyone needing a place to live.
The industry should have anticipated the looming housing crisis, Hawkey said.
“The market will not solve the housing crisis in Blenheim. While BETHS has been able to help more than 50 homeless households find permanent housing, most are still struggling. “
A multi-agency response was needed and a regional strategy, bringing together Marlborough District Council, government agencies, iwi and other housing organizations, Hawkey said.
“With all the players around the table, to understand the drivers of this crisis and propose strategies to resolve it. Only then can Blenheim’s most vulnerable families find safe, long-term homes where they can thrive. “
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Developers, agencies and contractors had discussed Marlborough’s housing issues at the Housing Group forum, which has been meeting since 2018.
Several projects hoping to alleviate the shortage were underway, in particular 12 senior citizen apartments being designed for George St, 55 new Kāinga Ora houses to be completed by the end of next year, and new CSR housing nearing completion.
The Housing group decided at its July meeting to start forming subgroups around areas of interest, so that potential solutions can be developed and brought back to the main group.
Surveyor Vicki Nalder was drafting a community housing action plan to be tabled at the housing group’s next meeting in September, hoping that a holistic vision for community housing would help focus the group’s work.