New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services Council member Carol Barron reminds of the need for hope as she shares the impacts of the housing crisis in Ōtautahi, Christchurch. Carol is the National Coordinator of the Methodist Alliance.

“My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.”

Isaiah 32:18 NIV

The fundamental human right to adequate housing is recognised in many international treaties that Aotearoa New Zealand is a signatory to, however, we as a nation are failing to provide safe affordable housing for our people. This means that many whānau with children go to bed each night in a house unsuitable for their needs, in a car, a shed, or on someone’s floor.

The number of households on the social housing register keeps increasing.  It has increased seven-fold in the last seven years. There are now nearly 26,000 households registered – the real number of people is much higher, as this is households not individual people and does not include most people living on the streets.

Nic Fleming, Housing First Christchurch Manager reports they have over 80 kaewa on their waiting list. These are people that have experienced homelessness for 12 months or have been episodically homeless. The housing crisis is real and evidenced not only by this high demand, but also in the increasing difficulty Housing First is facing when trying to secure private rentals.  Landlords are selling their investment properties and this increases the demand for a shrinking number of rental homes and also results in higher rents.

As well as purchasing land for new developments, Kāinga Ora is purchasing accommodation which housed a lot of people who struggled to find alternative options. This reduces the options for many people who are not eligible or those that do not choose to go into emergency accommodation.

The Housing First model provides permanent housing first and then a suite of wrap around support services for the tenant. However, to do this, we need to find a house for people to live in. Due to the chronic lack of available housing, more and more people are using emergency accommodation at huge costs to the Government. This is money that could and should be spent on building more permanent homes for our most vulnerable.

Kāinga Ora is recruiting more staff including some of the very skilled and awesome NGO staff. The significant wage difference that Kāinga Ora is able to offer compared with that of NGOs, is resulting in very experienced and skilled staff leaving for these higher salaries. This sector is experiencing the same shift that NGOs have seen with social workers moving to Oranga Tamariki.

COVID-19 has meant that staff are working in different ways. More people are working from home and training new staff has become more complex.

Many of the people Methodist Missions work with are living on incomes that often do not meet the costs of rent, food, power etc. Like many people trying to live on benefits, they are just living and often trapped in poverty as benefit levels fail to keep up with the cost of living. The effects of COVID-19 means that these people do not have the ability to purchase what they need when they are required to self-isolate. Christchurch Methodist Mission appealed for donations for tissues, masks, hand sanitiser, Panadol, cough lozenges etc. to make up packs for people who need to isolate and who do not have the ability to purchase these things in their very tight budgets. The packs are targeted to the needs of each whānau.

The Methodist Alliance is working with the wider Methodist Church to draft a housing action plan. The aim is to use Methodist resources to build more housing stock and to meet the housing needs of the most vulnerable. By taking a nationwide approach and leveraging off our skills and experience, we will be able to do and achieve more for the poor and disadvantaged in Aotearoa.

We have many examples of Parishes partnering with their local Methodist Mission in creative solutions to the housing crisis. These include leasing land to the Mission to build social housing, leasing a vacant parsonage for transitional housing, etc. In addition, there has been the successful ecumenical project where Christchurch Methodist Mission lease land owned by Anglican Care in Christchurch and 15 three-bedroom houses and a community house have created an intentional new community.

There is no simple, quick easy fix for the housing crisis as it is a complex problem. The lack of safe affordable housing, current benefit levels falling well short of what people need to survive on, an overwhelmed mental health system, and a worldwide pandemic, have created a perfect storm for many people.

This is where our faith needs to provide the hope, and our actions need to create a better future to the least, the lost and the last.