The Minister of Social Development, Carmel Sepuloni. Photo / Mark Mitchell

By Nita Blake-Persen from RNZ

The number of children living in motels has reached an all-time high, despite the government’s commitment to tackle child poverty.

As of March 31, 4,368 children were living in motels across the country, an increase of 480 in three months. At the end of December, there were 3,888 children in the motels.

There were 465 children in motels for less than four weeks in the three months leading up to December – that number rose to 804 by the end of March.

But on a Kaitaia street, there are two very different approaches to the problem.

At one end is the Northerner – a motel now renowned for its use of emergency accommodation.

Families and singles have lived here for years, and when manager Serefina Lay took over, she said things were bad.

But she’s worked hard to turn things around and is now very careful about who is allowed to stay. She prefers not to have a family, but says that for some people there was nowhere to go.

Northerners Director Serefina Lay said most mothers who use emergency accommodation are just trying to do the best for their families.  Photo / RNZ
Northerners Director Serefina Lay said most mothers who use emergency accommodation are just trying to do their best for their families. Photo / RNZ

“It’s hard to talk about that stuff because every family has a lot of issues and that, but at the end of the day I’m not here to judge anyone, I’m just here to help them and them. support.

“You know, most of these mothers here, they’re just trying [to do] the best for their children. “

On the same street, just a two-minute walk from the Northerner, He Korowai Trust CEO Ricky Houghton has a very different solution.

He set up the Whare Ora Papakāinga – a rental social housing program with option to buy, run by He Korowai Trust.

The houses are former Auckland state houses that would otherwise be state of the art – instead, the trust buys them and uses an on-site trades academy to upgrade them.

They are placed on trust land, with 27 homes to date on the first five of the 50 acres.

The houses adjoin an early childhood center and a community garden, each house comes with a supply of milk and bread, as well as a budget, pastoral care and drug addiction support.

Houghton said the houses were more than bricks and mortar.

“The homes we renovate, recycle and relocate are homes that are 50 years old – they will be 50 more years old. These are the kind of homes we want our children to run to, not to leave.

The houses cost $ 180,000 each – with no land or infrastructure – and are intended for low-income whānau who would often live in motels.

Whare Ora Papakāinga from He Korowai Trust in Kaitaia.  Photo / RNZ
Whare Ora Papakāinga from He Korowai Trust in Kaitaia. Photo / RNZ

Renters pay $ 380 per week for a three-year trial to live there and a payment of $ 20 is taken from their rent to go to KiwiSaver.

If after three years they decide not to continue, they take their money with them – if they progress, they continue to pay $ 380 per week for 15 years to own their own home.

Houghton said the program made a lot more sense than the government paying $ 280 a week for motel rooms down the street.

The government has funded 50% of the development so far – but Houghton said with more money the model could be rolled out throughout Te Tai Tokerau and the rest of Aotearoa.

“I asked the government for $ 22 million and I can put 800 homes in Northland that would otherwise go underground.

“I asked the government – give me $ 22 million and I will never come back to you again and I can solve the housing crisis in Northland.”

The government is currently spending around $ 1 million a day on emergency accommodation – but Houghton said his demand has not taken off.

“The response is deafening.”

He said it was possible for him to make big profits on the government’s emergency payments, but that was not what he wanted.

“I can get rich and I can feed off the poverty of these families – I can quadruple my balance sheet if I wanted to, I could build an empire like many others have chosen to do.

“I want the dividends to go to these families to give them a financial head start on things.”

Today Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni would not give any guarantees about the project, but said the government was in talks with Houghton about her work, which she respected.

She also said the government allocated $ 380 million in the last budget for 1,000 new housing units for Maori, including papakāinga housing.

“We are very deliberate here and very focused on innovative ways to work with iwi and hapū to host whānau.

As for the increase in the number of children living in motels, she said the latest figures were “at a point in time” data and were fluctuating.

“We will continue to monitor this space, but you need to monitor it for a while to be able to determine if there is a trend,” she said.

Sepuloni said overall emergency accommodation spending and demand has fallen over the past two quarters.


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This notice was published: 2021-07-05 08:16:37


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