Kia whai whare te tangata We get people into housing

Having a place to call home is the foundation for almost everything in a person’s life, but too often our clients cannot access or sustain suitable housing.

We want to help people maintain existing tenancies wherever possible, and we want to respond quickly with the right support when (or preferably before) people become homeless.

This year there was an increase of over 33 percent in the number of people on the Public Housing Register, to 29,160. This increase continues to be driven by the high cost of housing relative to household incomes, especially among beneficiary and low-income households, and the continuing shortage of public housing and affordable rentals for low-income New Zealanders.

Helping people achieve suitable housing solutions

Many households, particularly those on low incomes, struggle to access warm, dry and affordable housing of the right size for their needs. Through our contact centres and processing centres, our specialist housing staff provide support to help people sustain their housing situation, to prevent homelessness wherever possible, and to respond quickly when families do lose their home.

Although our influence on the performance of the wider housing system is limited , our indicators show that we are meeting our agreed targets relating to the housing outcomes that are within our area of responsibility . We approved more than 152,500 special needs grants to help people access emergency housing this year, and 4,029 households were in emergency housing at 30 June 2021.

However, the scarcity of housing has led to the median time taken to house clients rising significantly this year.

Supporting clients through COVID-19-related housing stress

The impacts of COVID-19 exacerbated housing stress. We saw a dramatic increase in the uptake of housing-related supports in the later months of 2020, including Accommodation Supplement and Emergency Housing Special Needs Grants - although these levelled out and fell slightly as we moved into 2021.

There was a fall in the number of households getting Accommodation Supplement after 1 April 2020, when main benefits were increased by around 3.1 percent, but the continuing increase in the cost of housing is still driving an underlying increase in Accommodation Supplement.

A Government rent freeze, introduced as a COVID-19 response, ended on 26 September 2020, following which there was a general increase in rents. This had a flow-on effect on housing-related financial assistance such as Accommodation Supplement, Temporary Additional Support, and the Rent Arrears Assistance housing support product (RAA). The RAA is a payment designed to help people who have incurred rent arrears to stay in suitable accommodation and prevent them having to go into emergency housing. It was temporarily expanded between July and December 2020 (subsequently extended to 30 June 2021) to support clients who had been financially impacted by COVID-19. The maximum payment was increased from $2,000 to $4,000 until December 2020.

Contributing to the Aotearoa/New Zealand Homelessness Action Plan

Through a cross-agency working group led by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development Te Tūāpapa Kura Kāinga (HUD), we have developed and implemented several initiatives as part of the Aotearoa/New Zealand Homelessness Action Plan 2020-2023 , including:

  • introducing housing broker roles, to support our clients to secure private rental housing
  • extending supports for emergency housing through Intensive Case Managers and Navigators, to improve the overall wellbeing and stability of people in emergency housing 
  • launching Ready to Rent programmes, to help prepare people for the private rental market
  • putting in place a flexible funding package, to support the wellbeing and educational needs of children in emergency housing.

Helping those in need with new housing assistance programmes

The number of households on the Public Housing Register continues to increase. We have introduced several initiatives to help people get into or stay in housing.

Housing brokers

We established 21 Housing Brokers across our eleven regions in 2020 as part of the Aotearoa/New Zealand Homelessness Action Plan. This new service builds connections with local landlords and property managers, promotes our clients as potential tenants, and matches them with housing opportunities in the private rental market. This gives people a better chance of securing tenancies in the private market, reducing the risk of homelessness and the need for emergency housing.

By 30 June 2021 our housing brokers had supported 1,278 clients into suitable long-term accommodation.

Ready to Rent

Ready to Rent (R2R) is a programme run by MSD-contracted community providers to help people who are in emergency housing or on the Public Housing Register to secure a private tenancy.

The programme extended in 2020/21 to be operational in all eleven MSD regions.

Case study:
Help to find a home

Overwhelmed by her situation in emergency housing, a mother with two children gained support, advice and finally a home – thanks to the constant teamwork of an MSD housing broker and case manager, plus a programme called Ready to Rent.

Read Help to find a home

Local solutions in Rotorua

This year we entered a partnership with the Rotorua Lakes District Council, Te Arawa iwi, HUD, Kāinga Ora and Te Puni Kōkiri to understand and develop solutions to the homelessness and critical emergency housing situation in Rotorua. By 30 June 2021 agencies had agreed a plan for action. As part of this we have identified suitable motels to be used for emergency housing in the city, and will establish a hub as a co-location of government agencies, iwi and NGOs to streamline placement processes across the housing sector.

The plan aims to improve the quality of housing and housing services, and the suitability of accommodation placements for diverse clients and family situations, centred around iwi and whānau needs. The model also sets up a pathway to more permanent housing.

Although we intend to use some aspects of the Rotorua model in other places, we acknowledge that each community has a different set of circumstances, needs, resources and provider capacity. A place-based approach is required when rolling out this model elsewhere.

Flexible Funding Assistance

Since 2 November 2020 the Flexible Funding Assistance programme (Flexifund) has provided transport and other services for families with children in emergency housing so the children can stay at the same school and pursue their normal activities. This helps improve their social outcomes. Any family with children that receives an Emergency Housing Special Needs Grant is eligible for Flexifund assistance.

People are staying longer in emergency housing

Demand for emergency housing increased after the initial national lockdown but the increase has slowed. However, clients are staying longer in emergency housing, and both the overall number of children and the number and proportion of families that have children have increased significantly .

The average stay in emergency housing in 2020/21 was 11.6 weeks; this compares with 7.6 weeks in 2019/20.

The longest current stay in emergency housing of any person or household at 30 June 2021 was 131 weeks.

Implementing the client contribution for emergency housing

We provided advice to Ministers on the client contribution for people in emergency housing. This was implemented in October 2020. From October 2020, clients who receive emergency housing for more than seven nights are asked to contribute 25 percent of their weekly income towards their accommodation costs. This contribution:

  • puts emergency housing on a more equal footing with other types of housing support such as public or transitional housing
  • helps emergency housing clients to better prepare for finding and sustaining a long-term housing solution.

We are continuing to work closely with other agencies, in particular HUD, to get more people into sustainable accommodation.

Work continues on reducing reliance on motel us for transitional and emergency housing, including obtaining a better understanding of the potential demand on the system.

Extending rent arrears assistance

With our HUD colleagues we provided advice to Ministers as part of the COVID-19 response, that led to Cabinet approving temporary policy changes to Rent Arrears Assistance, one of our Housing Support Products, to better assist those in the private rental market impacted by COVID-19 to sustain their tenancies.

These temporary changes were implemented on 6 July 2020 for six months and were later extended to 30 June 2021. This policy change was intended to mitigate any possible impacts on the rental market due to the COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure that people could remain safely housed during this period, particularly following lockdown. The better-than-forecast economic recovery meant demand for rent arrears assistance was much lower than anticipated.


  1. For example, the supply side of the public housing market is managed by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development Te Tūāpapa Kura Kāinga and by Kāinga Ora – Homes and Communities (formerly Housing New Zealand).

  2. These targets relate to calculating income-related rent assessments, placing applicants on the Public Housing Register, and supporting people into non-public-housing solutions.

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  4. In some cases the child(ren) may have alternative living arrangements and may not therefore physically be living in emergency housing. However, the household make-up recorded when an Emergency Housing Special Needs Grant is approved includes the number of children, if any.

  5. This figure is calculated for households whose last Emergency Housing Special Needs Grant was received between 1 July 2020 and 30 June 2021.