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How Hastings cut numbers in emergency housing

Nov 15, 2023

By Lauren Crimp of RNZ

A Hawke's Bay city that has long been home to a chronic housing shortage has made a massive dent in the number of people forced to live in motels.

At the end of March 2022 - when the Ministry of Social Development began regularly reporting these numbers - 285 people in 117 Hastings households were living in emergency accommodation.

At the end of September 2023, that was down to 66 people in 39 households - a 77 percent drop.

Officials put the success down to the district's place-based housing strategy, which was introduced as a pilot in 2019.

That year was breaking point, when two-thirds of the district's motel rooms were being used for emergency accommodation, Hastings District Council chief executive Nigel Bickle said.

"We didn't have all the answers, but we said 'look we've got a problem, we've got some ideas around what perhaps is causing it, and also some ideas around what might solve it'.

"But the bottom line is no one can solve this on their own if they don't understand the local housing market, and that you bring the right partners together."

Those partners included council, government, community organisations and iwi, who were driven by the principle that every community had its own housing issues and opportunities - and a one-size-fits-all approach would not address them.

Hastings faced specific challenges, such as having to house 6000 seasonal workers for seven months of the year - which had a domino effect, said Bickle.

"In a place whose population is growing, and economy is going really strong, why did we have 1000 less rental houses than we had five years previously?

"Well, in a visitor economy, when all of a sudden two-thirds of your visitor accommodation is being used to house families in emergency housing and to look after temporary workers, a lot of houses that were once rentals got converted to Airbnb."

The cycle was perpetuating - but four years in, the puzzle had mostly been pieced together.

That included allowing for:

  • seasonal worker accommodation on horticulture land
  • affordable rentals built by developers on council land
  • new subdivisions for private developments
  • a boost of public housing through Kāinga Ora conversions of inner-city buildings to apartments
  • community housing including papakāinga built on whenua Māori

Five motels had been taken out of circulation for emergency housing, because they were no longer needed, Bickle said.

But the mission was not over yet, he said.

"Kids and families shouldn't be living in motels - they're not designed to be housing.

"We had a KPI to try and get to zero within three years. We've made a lot of progress, but, there's still a long way to go."

With the support of Te Puni Kokiri, 79 papakāinga have been built or are under construction on whenua Māori across Hastings. Photo: Hastings District Council

It has taken a village - and it was vital that Ngāti Kahungunu was part of it, chief executive Bayden Barber said.

Māori represent about 70 percent of those living in emergency accommodation in Hastings.

Now, ancestral land was being used for papakāinga to house generations of whānau, Barber said.

"You've got whānau that have whenua, and iwi's role is to enable and empower those whānau to build homes for their people.

"It's a great model, because it's connection to whenua, place and whakapapa.

"And it's about whai kāinga, whai oranga, which is, if you can get housing, there's wellness in that. It's more than just housing, it's a kaupapa approach."

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development said it was looking to achieve the same success with place-based housing strategies in nine other communities from Te Tai Tokerau to Queenstown, in a bid to move thousands of people out of motels and off the public housing waitlist.

Main image (Hastings District Council): Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in July for a new Flaxmere housing development. 

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