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Vannessa Pye with her 4-week-old baby Carter as she mops up the floor from her leaking roof. Photo / Warren Buckland

A Napier mother-of-four says her complaints about living in a leaking and mouldy state home that has made her children sick have been mostly ignored for the six years she has lived there.

Kāinga Ora recently had a new roof installed on the Maraenui property, but to add insult to injury a contractor drilled through a pipe in the ceiling, sending water pouring through the two-bedroom house.

The house is now uninhabitable and Vannessa Pye, 24, and her four young children - a girl Unique, 5, and three boys Alizae, 3, Casey, 2 and Carter, 4 months - would have been out on the street, but fortunately were able to move in with family nearby.

Kāinga Ora, formerly Housing NZ, said it was unable to find them emergency accommodation in a motel while repairs were done as they were all full, but offered the family spaces in a shared dorm room at a hostel in the city.

Pye said this was unacceptable.

"I get upset thinking about it too much. All we want is a warm, dry home that won't make my children sick. I am just lucky at the moment to have family support."

Pye said ever since she moved into the property the roof had been leaking, making it damp and mouldy.

"It is beyond a joke. My kids are getting sick constantly, probably because of all of the mould and the fact it is damp all of the time."

Unique started school last year but had to miss almost a term of classes due to her lung disease and asthma, Pye said.

A doctor's note written on Wednesday - viewed by the Herald - stated Unique was suffering chronic lung disease, which it said was "if not caused by her housing [conditions] at least they are contributing to her deterioration.

"Not to jeopardise her medical wellbeing she needs to be provided with a dry and mould-free living space."

Pye said health concerns about the property had been raised with Kāinga Ora, but had been ignored.

In a written response to the Herald, Kāinga Ora said it had only received two complaints about the roof leaking - one in 2017 and one in 2019.

Pye said this was not true.

Only two weeks ago a small electrical fire was sparked in the light socket in the children's room because of a leak, Pye said.

Last winter the power to her whole house even blew out because of the leaks, she said.

Each time a new leak emerged she contacted Kāinga Ora, and contractors would repair it.

But soon enough another would emerge.

Vannessa Pye with Carter, 4 weeks, and Casey, 2 at the entrance to the wet kitchen of their Napier Kainga Ora home. Photo / Warren Buckland

After the latest issue with the pipe bursting a contractor recently told her he didn't think the house was safe to live in, she said.

"He told me it should be condemned, but I said I have nowhere else to go."

Pye said she had been on a waiting list over two years to transfer to a larger - healthier - house.

"It feels like they don't care, that they think just because I am a single mother with four children it is okay just to leave me there."

Pye's situation is far from isolated, as the country grapples with an intensifying housing crisis, and severe shortage of social housing.

As of September there were 21,415 households on the register of those approved for but waiting for social housing - up from 3399 in September 2015.

Across the Hawke's Bay five years ago there were just 152 households on the register, while as of September it had grown more than tenfold to 1513.

In Napier it jumped from 79 to 747, and nearby in Hastings from 57 to 637.

Making matters worse were the more than 100 households made homeless after last November's floods, and the influx of RSE workers to pick fruit bumping out those in emergency accommodation in motels(external link).

Recently Ngahiwi Tomoana, chairman of Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated, said there were over 1500 whānau in the area in need of social housing(external link).

"In our rohe we need 800 homes at the moment just to satisfy the housing requirements of the 1500-plus whānau in motels and those on housing waiting lists against a backdrop of $700,000-plus a week spent on emergency accommodation."

Napier City councillor Maxine Boag, who holds the housing portfolio, said in 2015, 110 Housing NZ units - deemed unsafe - were destroyed in Maraenui, but the Government had been slow to replace them.

In the past three years though, Kainga Ora has ramped up its building programme, adding 93 new homes to in Napier and over 160 in Hawke's Bay as a whole.

However at the same time demand had risen exponentially.

Boag said she had faith the current Government was committed to plugging the gap in supply.

"There can be no dispute that the dire shortage of affordable rentals is seriously affecting the well-being of vulnerable members of our community."

Denis O'Reilly, chairman of Waiohiki Community Charitable Trust which is involved in social housing, said the young family's situation was a symptom of poor quality state houses and poor policy.

"There was a big drive back in the day to build these homes, but to do so quickly and cheaply.

"We really are in a terrible crisis. We have houses going for extraordinary prices, unaffordable rental prices, overcrowding with people sleeping in cars and garages, and a dearth of social housing supply, along with the floods."

In the year to December, house prices across Hawke's Bay were up 13.4 per cent to $639,471, according to realestate.co.nz.

Meanwhile available housing stocks were at an all-time low, down 45.3 per cent from December 2019.

Kāinga Ora area manager Napier Andrew Cairns said his organisation was sorry for the situation the Pye family were currently in, which was "not helped by a lack of alternative accommodation due to the high demand for motels in the area due to summer holidays".

The latest roof leak was caused when a roofer accidentally put a screw through a water pipe that was inside the roof cavity

They were grateful family had stepped in to assist Pye, he said.

Cairns said the recent damage to the house was "not serious" and the family would be back in the house "as soon as possible".

"The house is in liveable condition and we would certainly get other suitable accommodation for our customer and her whānau were that not the case," he said.

"However we understand that our customers should have been better supported and we have apologised in person to her and her whanau.

"We will be providing some practical assistance to her to recognise her inconvenience."

Neilson, M 2021, 'Housing crisis: Young Napier family's Kāinga Ora home leaking for years, while children get sick', NZ Herald,  14 January, accessed January 22 2021 from nzherald.co.nz.

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