Transitional housing team member Stan Reid, left, with Housing First Blenheim team leader Justin Kemp. Photo: Matt Brown.

House shortage hurts ‘vulnerable’

A bid to help tackle Marlborough’s housing crisis is being hit by a lack of landlords prepared to put forward their properties.

Latest figures show 132 people or families urgently need long-term housing across the region.

And industry experts have warned society’s most vulnerable are being hit hardest, with some families living in transitional housing for more than a year.

The Christchurch Methodist Mission oversees the programme, which relies on properties from the private sector, in Blenheim.

But to date just six landlords have leased properties to the Christian organisation and 14 more properties are needed to meet the government contract.

Christchurch Methodist Mission executive director Jill Hawkey says the “supply has to increase.”

“For landlords it’s a really good deal,” she says.

Housing First is a government-funded programme aimed at the chronically homeless and looks to house those who have been living rough for more than a year.

The $197m initiative began in June in Marlborough and has housed four people with two more homeless people due to move into new accommodation this week.

“Some people in transitional housing meet the criteria, but not many,” Jill says.

Housing First Blenheim team leader Justin Kemp says the average price of a rental in Christchurch is on par with the lowest renters pay in Marlborough.

“The cost of rent is high and it’s a barrier,” he says.

The Christchurch Methodist Mission pays market rent and manages the tenancy, which they sub lease to the tenant.

Jill says damage hasn’t been an issue, however any necessary repairs are covered by the organisation.

The programme offers a wraparound service for the tenants, supporting them with “basic” services such as getting ID, help with shopping, getting licenses and registering with a GP.

It provides the homeless with a stable home before attempting to address mental health, alcohol and drug issues.

“We’re really pleased with progress made to date,” Jill says.

While the landlords receive market rent for the property, the tenants have full responsibility for their accommodation.

Rent for tenants is means tested, like other Housing New Zealand properties, and set at around 25 per cent of the person’s income.

“Housing First gives people another chance, a chance to get settled,” Jill says.

“Everyone deserves a second chance. And a third, and a fourth.”

Homeless struggle with housing crisis

The number of homeless in Marlborough has tripled in the last three years as the region struggles with a “significant housing crisis”.

Latest records from the Ministry of Social Development show 132 people in Marlborough urgently need housing.

But Christchurch Methodist Mission housing manager Andrea Goodman says the need for more social housing was not limited to the homeless.

“There’s a lot of people that come to the area for work because of the vineyards, not realising that there’s an issue with housing,” Andrea says.

“Also, the housing market being so buoyant means that a lot of landlords have sold off their properties.”

There are 36 families currently in transitional housing in Blenheim alone, however, over half of those in desperate need of housing are single people.

Christchurch Methodist Mission executive director Jill Hawkey was in Blenheim last week to unveil the Housing First programme.

“We’re already supporting families in Blenheim but single men is the group that needs particular support,” Jill says.

Housing First is a model of housing and wrap-around support that houses people who are long-term homeless, without the need to be sober or drug-free.

The programme relies on houses from the private sector.

“In some way, it’s a good deal for landlords,” Andrea says.

“The rent will be guaranteed and the properties will get returned in the condition they were let in.

“But it’s also an opportunity for landlords to get a good social outcome.”

Andrea says they are looking for rental contracts that would last at least a year and hoped landlords would commit for longer.

The $197m government programme recognises it is easier for people to address issues, such as mental health problems and addiction, once they are housed.

Government funds would be used for tenancy management, repairs and maintenance, and support services

“Everybody that goes into a Housing First house has at least a weekly visit from a key worker if not more frequently depending on the needs of the person,” Jill says.

Jill says they aim to get long-term homeless people off the streets.

“We don’t want to set up a big bureaucracy, that’s more hoops for people to jump through,” Jill says.

The programme was hoped to “kick off” within a couple of months.

“Once we get that all up and going and they’ve been trained and inducted we can kick off.”

Jill says the strength of the initiative lies with local agencies working together.