The headline on a press statement from ACT – Megan Woods In Hiding On Housing – suggested the Minister of Housing had gone to ground somewhere. It quickly became apparent she hadn’t .
The press statement was posted on Scoop at 1:38 pm. Before long, Woods was in the House answering questions about her housing portfolio, albeit from National, not ACT, and about the numbers of people being housed in motels rather than about the numbers of new houses forecast to be built this year.
The replies provided material for a press statement from the Nats later in the day, to highlight figures showing more than $1 million of taxpayer money is being spent each day on motels for emergency housing.
Maybe there’s a case for Woods becoming Minister of Motels.
According to the Nats’ press statement the Government spent $82.5 million, or $917,000 a day, in the past quarter on emergency housing grants for people to live in motels and similar accommodation. This is on top of the $155,000 a day the Government is spending on motels for transitional housing purposes.
This is a more than ten-fold increase on what was being spent on emergency housing when Labour came into office, National’s Housing spokesperson Nicola Willis says.
Willis had extracted the information from Woods at Question Time by asking if Woods stood by her statement that “Motels are not a suitable environment for vulnerable individuals, families and whanau and they are also not cost effective”. If so, how many people is the Government funding to live in motels now compared to the last quarter of 2017?
Woods (no surprises here) did stand by the statement.
She said that’s why the government has a programme to supply 6,641 transitional homes by 2024.
In answer to the second part of the question, 293 motel places were being provided as transitional housing in the last quarter of 2017. In the last quarter of 2020, 907 places were being provided. Another 983 motel places were provided as part of the Government’s COVID-19 response in the last quarter of 2020.
These are the additional places funded to ensure that all New Zealanders had the opportunity to safely isolate during the lockdown.
“I’m particularly proud of what we achieved last year during the COVID-19 lockdown, with one community leader saying “it’s the closest we’ve come in a generation to getting everybody off the street.”
Woods said other motel places were being funded but she did not have ministerial responsibility for them – for example, through the emergency housing special needs grant administered by Ministry of Social Development.
The number of clients receiving an emergency housing special needs grant has increased from 2,880 in the last quarter of 2017 to 8,503 in the last quarter of 2020.
Corrections also provide accommodation. However, figures are not centrally held and are not possible to generate in the time frame available.
Elucidating on this in answer to another question, Woods said she had distinguished between the data under the Housing appropriation for which she is responsible and Ministry of Social Development data, for which a colleague has responsibility.
Moreover, as the Minister of Housing, she acknowledged she was responsible for the delivery for additional transitional homes.
“I do take, absolutely, responsibility for that, because, no, I do not believe it is a place to raise a child—in a motel. But even more, I do not think a car or a garage or a street is a place to raise a child.”
Nicola Willis: Does she take direct responsibility for the fact that her Government is now spending a million dollars a day to house people in motels and boarding hostels?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: What I also take direct responsibility for is the fact that we are a Government that is willing to admit, address, and finally get some action on the fact that we have a homelessness problem in this country. We have funded the provision of 6,641 transitional housing places in this country. That is going to deliver more than three times what was available. We are a Government with a plan, we are delivering on it, we are willing to admit it, and we are actually funding it.
Willis asked why thousands more people were being forced to live in motels, at a cost of a million dollars a day, more than four years after Labour was elected on a promise to solve the housing crisis.
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: What I can tell that member is that if she thinks that homeless people have magically appeared in the last 3½ years, she has learnt nothing from the inaction and mistakes of her party when they were in Government. What we are is a party and a Government that is committed to finally owning up to the fact we have a homelessness problem in this country, that we have a housing crisis, and that we are putting the actions into place. Those homeless people were previously sleeping in cars, they were sleeping in garages, and they were sleeping on the street. I do not think motels are ideal, but I would put anyone up in a motel over them sleeping on the street any day of the week.
Willis next asked Woods if she could confirm that the Government now has financial arrangements in place with more than 950 motels and boarding hostels across this country for the purpose of emergency housing, and was this what Labour meant when it said it would solve New Zealand’s housing shortage?
Woods said she didn’t have the number of providers in front of her because some would be funded through the special needs housing grant,
“ … but what I can tell that member is that this is preferable to having 900-odd cars available for people to sleep in, which was the response of the previous Government. What I am still waiting to hear is what the alternative is that that member is proposing. Is she suggesting that we cancel those motel contracts and put those people back on the street, where her party left them?”
In her subsequent press statement, Willis said emergency housing had spiralled out of control on Labour’s watch.
“Thousands more New Zealanders are being squeezed out of the private housing market by escalating prices and a shortage of housing options.”
She highlighted the figure showing the Government was now contracting more than 950 motels and boarding hostels across the country for emergency housing.
And in the past quarter alone, 8503 families and individuals had been “forced to live in these conditions for an average of ten weeks”, although this would have been longer in many cases, Willis contended.
“This is a disgrace. As Housing Minister Megan Woods and her colleagues have repeatedly said, a motel is not an appropriate form of housing.
“Crowded motels are becoming hot-beds of dysfunction with families reportedly being forced raise their children next door to gang members, drug-dealers and criminal activity.
“This is happening on the Government’s watch and it must take responsibility for fixing it.”
The press statement from ACT Housing spokesperson Brooke van Velden earlier in the afternoon railed against
“ … this Government’s practice of blather and flannel when asked specific questions about its performance”.
When she asked Woods in Parliament on February 18 how many new houses would be built this year due to policies implemented by the government, the Minister did not have the information but suggested van Velden put the question in writing.
The MP did and the Minister’s answer was due to be provided seven days ago.
It seems it has yet to be provided.
“Clearly the Minister has the information – she said so in Parliament.
“Is she waiting for her counterpart, Finance Minister Grant Robertson, to finally announce his long awaited supply side housing solutions and hope that clouds the issue?
Van Velden repeated the question: how many new houses will be built this year due to policies implemented by this Government?
Point of Order is keen to hear the answer, too.