Housing crisis

The housing crisis is taking its toll on families in South Canterbury

A Timaru woman who has struggled for months to find a home for her family worries about others in the same situation.

Shea Swalley, her partner, and their five children had been homeless since early December until finally securing a three-bedroom house in Pareora last week after applying for more than 50 houses.

The search had dire consequences, including having to send two older children to live in Christchurch and draining their savings when they had nowhere to go.

“It was really life changing for everyone,” Swalley said.

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“When I go to a house tour and there are 50 other people there, I just think I don’t have a chance.”

The latest statistics published by Trade Me confirm these claims.

Trade Me property sales manager Gavin Lloyd said every region of the country saw a drop in the number of rentals available in January, with Canterbury (including South Canterbury) seeing one of the biggest drops – down by 33%.

But demand continued to rise in the region in January 2022, up 26% from January 2021.

Lloyd said rent prices also showed no signs of slowing in Canterbury, with record increases continuing through 2022.

Timaru’s median rent hit $410 a week in January 2022, up from $395 in December.

Swalley knew she had to be quick when she saw a private listing for a house in Pareroa, immediately sending her references.

The owner later told her they were so inundated with people applying that they deleted the ad after just 20 minutes.

She is happy with the rental price for her new home, which is significantly cheaper than the three-bedroom houses she envisioned in Timaru, which are often listed at $500 per week or more.

Swalley believed her family had missed out on some properties due to prejudice and that there may have been an element of racism when people saw her partner, who is Maori.

Swalley was unable to access public housing or emergency accommodation.


Swalley was unable to access public housing or emergency accommodation.

“But they don’t see that he’s the one working and providing for the whole family. I’m 29, he’s 31, we have a whole bunch of kids, people look at us and think ‘maybe not then’, but I have amazing credentials.

“We have five children – three stepchildren and two of my own – but it got to the point where we just had nowhere to have them.

“I have just sent two of them back to Christchurch to live with their biological mother.

“My 11 year old son stayed at Darfield throughout the school holidays. We couldn’t see her from Christmas until the day before school started because we had nowhere to put her.

Swalley said they spent a lot of their savings trying to provide alternatives for children over the summer.

“I booked my children as many camps and activities as possible over Christmas, so they went for a week here and five days there.

“I basically used all my savings to do this, because we had nowhere to put them.

“It’s hard work to be honest, I don’t know how we’re going to survive sometimes.”

Swalley knows several other families in similar situations.

“My friends will be homeless this weekend, they had been looking for two and a half months.

“I have another friend who is about to become homeless. She’s been looking for something for three or four months.

“She’s a single mom with three kids, her house is always spotless. She’s a perfect tenant, and she can’t find anywhere.

Swalley said Kāinga Ora constantly told her that there were no state houses available, even when she asked about properties that seemed vacant.

“They keep saying it’s because they’re working on it, but two months later and no one has come home.”

The Department of Social Development told the couple they earned a bit too much to qualify for emergency housing, she said.

Swalley said it was not unusual to show up for rental tours with more than 50 other people during his search.

Liz McDonald / Stuff

Swalley said it was not unusual to show up for rental tours with more than 50 other people during his search.

“It’s silly, because we earn enough to qualify for a Housing New Zealand house.”

When she implored the agencies for help, they encouraged her to “check out the Top Ten Holiday Park”.

“But I worked when we pay for seven nights with five kids and my husband goes to work and comes back to Pareora, we wouldn’t have anything extra for groceries,” she said.

According to the most recent figures from the Kāinga Ora website, there were 442 Kāinga Ora rental properties in South Canterbury as of September 2021.

Of the 418 in Timaru District, 22 were listed as vacant, as was one of 23 in Waimate and the only property in Mackenzie District.

However, Kāinga Ora regional manager Kerrie Young said there were ‘currently no vacant properties in south Canterbury awaiting tenants’, and updated figures only showed two vacancies. , where a decision is still made on repairs to fire-damaged properties.

“Another 19 properties in the area are identified for our renovation program, which may require ‘significant upgrades’, including insulation, double glazing, improved air tightness, ventilation and new heater,” Young said.

She said that as the renovation process can be lengthy, clients have to relocate temporarily, requiring Kāinga Ora to “also have properties available to move into while work is in progress”.

The uncertainty and instability have been hard on the family, Swalley says.


The uncertainty and instability have been hard on the family, Swalley says.

The latest regional housing report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development showed 91 applicants on the waiting list for a state house – now known as the housing registry – in South Canterbury in the third quarter of 2021, compared to 112 in the previous quarter.

Those who need housing immediately can apply for the Emergency Special Needs Housing Grant (EHSNG) which will pay for up to seven days of accommodation in a motel or hostel (and can be extended for up to to 21 days in exceptional circumstances), but can only be received once every 12 months.

As of September 2021, 135 EHSNGs had been approved in South Canterbury at a cost of $128,911.

Swalley said she was looking forward to moving.

“It’s double glazed, has a certified chimney – they’re just looking for someone who will really look after the place.”

She will drive her children to school every day in the absence of a bus, but changing schools to a closer school would incur other costs such as new uniforms, she said.

“And who knows that the private owner doesn’t end up selling like all the other owners?”.

“There’s no daycare there either, and I have a three-year-old and a one-year-old, so I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Swalley is looking for a paid job, but fears it “costs more childcare for three kids than I could earn in a week.”

The family stayed with Swalley’s grandparents, who said they could stay until the rental was ready in early March.

“My grandfather has Parkinson’s disease, my grandmother had triple bypass surgery and suffers from arthritis.

“She’s in pain every day and she’s just trying to do the best she can with my lot running around.”

Swalley said she, her partner and one-year-old share a bedroom, while her nine-year-old sleeps in the playroom, but the lack of stability has a negative effect on the children.

“My children are out of their routine, some of them are misbehaving.

“It’s hard work to be honest, I don’t know how we’re going to survive sometimes.”