First steps taken to end emergency housing

The Coalition Government has announced a series of first steps it has taken to end the large-scale use of emergency housing, including meeting its First 100 Day plan to establish a Priority One category for families with children in emergency housing, helping them to move into social housing faster.

“Emergency housing is one of the biggest public policy failures in New Zealand history. Under the last government’s watch, thousands of children were consigned to grow up in motels,” says Housing Minister Chris Bishop.

“The government currently spends around $340 million per year for emergency housing places. That’s bad enough, but the social cost for families with kids living in these motels for months at a time is an absolute tragedy.

“Our new Priority One category will mean families with dependent children in emergency housing for longer than twelve weeks will move to the top of the social housing waitlist so we can get them into stable housing sooner.” 

“It will take sustained action and multiple years to get emergency housing back to being needed rarely and only for brief periods, but it’s too important not to leave this in the too-hard basket. That’s why we’re introducing this new Priority One category in April this year.” 

“This government inherited a huge emergency housing problem which grew from a few families using it for short periods of time into a situation where three thousand families are living in motels for months at a time. 

“Unlike the last government we are taking action. At the same time as introducing Priority One we’ll also be strengthening the verification processes for those entering emergency housing, reviewing eligibility settings, and introducing new obligations,” says Social Development Minister Louise Upston.

“MSD staff assessing anyone applying for emergency housing will increase their scrutiny of whether they have unreasonably contributed to their immediate emergency housing need, whether they have taken reasonable efforts to access other housing options and whether they have previously paid their emergency housing contribution. This will include escalating for further consideration by a manager on a case-by-case basis, and making a grant for one to four days – as opposed to the current options of seven to twenty-one days – to enable further scrutiny before a grant is approved for a longer period.

“Between now and August, we will be working to strengthen emergency housing verification processes, review eligibility settings, limit discretion and clarify an applicant’s responsibilities while in emergency housing. These changes will help ensure that emergency housing is only accessed where absolutely necessary.

"The Priority One category will apply to families with children who have been in emergency housing for twelve weeks or more, because we know that children in emergency housing for an extended period are most at risk of poor health and education outcomes.”

“This government is committed to ending the large-scale use of Emergency Housing motels and returning them to a rarely and briefly needed last resort,” says Associate Housing Minister Tama Potaka.

“Solving emergency housing won’t be easy and it won’t happen immediately. Bold and radical steps will be required. We’ll be exploring a range of options including better support to prevent the need for emergency housing in the first place, as well as for those who exit.

“We will be applying a social investment lens to this problem, targeting support where people need it and looking at innovative options like social bonds.”