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CLIENT NEWS: Housing issues impacting on family violence victims – Waikato Women’s Refuge

A shortage of rental housing in Hamilton is impacting on the ability of Waikato Women’s Refuge to continue helping victims of family violence.

Waikato Women’s Refuge Co-Founder and CEO Ruahine Albert QSM says the impact of a tight rental market in Hamilton is now being felt.

Ms Albert says so many people are trying to rent houses in Hamilton that women and children who are ready to move on from the refuge safe houses and set up home are unable to do so. She estimates it’s affecting at least 12-15 families every quarter who cannot move on from the safe houses.

“This, in turn, means we are overflowing in our safe houses and that puts us at risk of not being able to help everyone who comes to us seeking support and safety.”

Lodge Real Estate Managing Director Jeremy O’Rourke says Hamilton is in the grip of a rental shortage in all areas of the city. 

“We manage a large portion of the rental properties in Hamilton and currently have a vacancy rate of under one percent.  At the moment, we only have 32 empty properties.  Twelve of these are one-bedroom units, so they wouldn’t be suitable for a family, while another dozen or so are higher-end properties. That means affordable rentals are as scarce as hen’s teeth,” says Mr O’Rourke.

He says the shortage of rental properties is due in large part to new loan-to-value ratio (LVR) restrictions which came into force for property investors last year.

“The Reserve Bank put the LVR restrictions in place late last year as a measure to slow the market.  The shortage of affordable rentals and lack of new stock coming on the market is an unfortunate and unintended consequence of these measures,” he says.    

Ms Albert says Waikato Women’s Refuge has previously been able to source rental housing and act as guarantors for the women who are setting up new lives. “But there are now so many people trying to get rental properties in Hamilton that they have a minimal chance of being chosen as a tenant.”

She’s urging existing or long-term rental owners to consider how they might be able to play their part in helping local families looking for fresh starts. “There might be landlords out there with several properties who would be prepared to set aside one or two to rent to these families getting back on their feet,” she says. “We want to work with these families and landlords to get these families into some sort of normality.”

She says Waikato Women’s Refuge needs access to additional funds to be able to pay for a six-month wrap-around service that helps the women and their families transition into these new homes. “This will provide landlords and rental management companies with the confidence they need to know the homes will be treated with respect.”

The Waikato Women’s Refuge – Te Whakaruruhau was established in 1986 by a group of local Māori women. It’s grown from a one-bedroom flat into five safe houses across Hamilton City and provides 24/7 crisis services as well as working with families to create long-term change in the domestic violence scene. The Waikato Women’s Refuge takes an integrated approach to family violence working with a variety of agencies. It has been independent from the National Women’s Refuge Collective since 2013.

The refuge’s crisis service operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week providing advice and support to women and children escaping family violence. Their safe houses accommodate about 60 women and children a week. The refuge also provides transitional accommodation and support to families as they look for a more permanent home.

The refuge, which has helped more than 4000 Waikato women escape violent and abusive relationships in the past year, is asking for people to donate household items. Donations of toiletries are appreciated for women and children leaving violent situations – often so quickly they don’t have time to take a toothbrush. Donations of items to help them set up house again are also welcomed, including second-hand furniture, good-quality pre-loved clothing, bedding and linen.

To offer to help the Waikato Women’s Refuge in any way, phone 07 855 1569.