Social housing provider say there is a cost of living crisis, PM disagrees

March 09, 2022

Photo by Kleomenis Spyroglou on Unsplash

Elijah Fa'afiu & Khalia Strong

​A South Auckland community housing provider says we are in a cost of living crisis with rising costs for food, petrol and rent, but the Prime Minister says the pressure will ease in a few months. 

Monte Cecilia Housing Trust CEO Bernie Smith says food banks are struggling to keep up with the number of families who are in need.

"Food banks have been given millions and millions of extra dollars to cope with the rising demand of food parcels​.

"While it's a New Zealand issue, we're in the epicentre of poverty and homelessness here in South Auckland and the demand is growing to such an extent that food banks are even struggling to keep up with the demand."

Inflation has hit a 30 year high of 5.9%​, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says what we’re experiencing is in line with what’s happening around the world, and things should improve before the end of the year. ​

“We know times are hard, but at the same time it is expected to be a spike, so not something that lasts for a long period of time.

“We’ve got a few more months where it’s projected that inflation will be higher, and that’s global, but then the prediction is that across the rest of the year, we should start to see it come away.”

Monte Cecilia looks after around 600 families, putting them in warm, dry and secure housing, with half of those families in transitional housing.

"We're constantly in contact with our whanau to ensure that they are linked with the appropriate churches and food banks and other services that offer the supports that whanau need," says Smith.

Smith says many Pacific and Maori families are struggling with limited resources.

"The difficulty with many of the families that we're supporting, they don't have wi-fi so they can't do click and collect. Sometimes language is a barrier. 

"They live in intergenerational households, so the cost of living on a day-to-day basis is duplicated many times over because there could be two or three generations living in that home."

Ardern says they are looking at ways to support people who are struggling now. She noted some improvements are coming soon for lower income earners, such as the increase to the minimum wage and the Best Start payment for young families, food in schools, along with the Winter Energy payment starting again soon.

But Smith says it should've been there a year ago for Pasifika and Maori families, particularly single earning families.

"By the time they get $600 a week and it's taxed, they end up with $500 a week. In South Auckland, you can't even get a three-bedroom home for $500 a week.

"We've seen millions of dollars being spent to support businesses. The government's spent about $30 million dollars upgrading and refurnishing government offices, they've spent millions employing more public servants, but we're not actually seeing the same emphasis on supporting those that are struggling the most.

"This party says that it's the party of the people, I'd like to see them put some action behind that statement."

Monte Ceclia Housing Trust CEO Bernie Smith

​Crisis not-crisis

The Prime Minister has been criticised for not labelling the current situation as a cost of living crisis, but backed her position. 

“Undeniably, we’re seeing an increase in the cost of living. What I’ve disputed is whether or not this is something that we’re going to live with forever -  I don’t think that’s the case, and many of our economists, who are looking forward, don’t think so either.”

Smith is critical of the Prime Minister's refusal to use the word "crisis", saying it's reminiscent of when the National party was in power. 

"It takes me back to the previous government who denied that there was a housing crisis and said it was a housing pressure.

"I guess we could say there's an economic pressure at the moment."

Watch the full interview with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Agnes Tupou on Pacific Mornings: 

*Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air*