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From motel living to renting – how a Habitat course helped a Hamilton mum

Aug 22, 2022

A Habitat for Humanity Ready to Rent course helped pregnant mum of five Amy Newton to refresh her tenancy knowledge, and move out of emergency accommodation after securing a private rental home.

The two-day course is held by Habitat for Humanity Central Region in partnership with Ministry of Social Development. People who are staying in Waikato temporary emergency and transitional accommodation learn more about tenancy law, landlord communication, basic maintenance, personal finance and rental opportunities.

When she attended the course, Amy and her tamariki were seeking a healthy and secure place to live.

Amy’s one-year-old son, Hakopa, has achondroplasia and high medical needs that includes use of an oxygen machine at night. Besides wanting to keep all her tamariki warm and safe, simply managing the use and storage of Hakopa’s equipment while living in a motel was difficult.

The whanau was staying there following a relationship separation. Amy says she had “literally just packed my babies’ bags with some clothes and their lunchboxes” and left.

While the motel is described online as a surprisingly peaceful motel with great family atmosphere, nestled in park-like surroundings with lots of outdoor areas, Amy says that’s not the reality. When they first moved in, the whanau cleaned up items and mess left by previous tenants.

They were given the opportunity to stay there after a frustrating search by Amy – the system often used for homeless people with children who won’t fit in a one-bedroom or studio unit is that MSD will fund accommodation if the whanau can find it.

Attending the Ready to Rent course saw Amy learning alongside others who were also staying in motels, in a positive environment where the focus was on empowering people with knowledge. She also linked in with Habitat and Ministry of Social Development workers who would go on to help her get a rental.

“It was quite cool that I was in a setting that awhi’d me.”

“I embraced every moment – every moment that I got to spend time with people who were in certain areas of work. I had looked at the certificate I was going to get, and I just wanted to know what it was going to get me.”

“I had a great history with all my tenancies – I was a great tenant,” she said. But finding a private rental that was big enough and suitable in Hamilton seemed impossible.

Through the course, Amy also gained a stronger relationship with MSD housing brokers and secured a private rental. It’s a five-bedroom home on a future development site, which means Amy and her tamariki will have three years there at the most. Amy is pragmatic about the timeframe, pleased that it’s close to the hospital for Hakopa’s visits, to kura and kohanga reo, that it’s heated and insulated, with a garage and fruit trees. And it’s hers – for now.

She went into the tenancy agreement with her eyes wide open to any pitfalls, and knowing her rights because of what she learned through the Habitat course.

“I literally got the tenancy agreement out of the folder that I got from Habitat and lined it up with the tenancy agreement that I got from the agent.”

Finding some crucial information missing – and some that had been added after she’d signed it – Amy was able to have this corrected.

When Habitat visited Amy at her new rental home, she was folding washing on the carpeted floor of her lounge, with the help of her friend. She was planning to apply bubble wrap to the single-glazed windows for winter. She’d furnished the home through op shops including Habitat’s ReStore. And she can afford the rent because of a subsidy provided by MSD.

The oldest of Amy’s tamariki is seven, and she says that in general they are great kids, “not fussy”. They’ve all adapted to new kura and kohanga reo quickly, making friends.

Through her own determination, with the help of her church and support from other organisations, Amy is well on her feet, committed to personal growth and with a passion for helping others. In her rare spare time she is involved with community and church groups that support women, and also enjoys sewing. She contributes consistently to KiwiSaver with a goal of home ownership, saying: “I’m holding to that even though I’m on a benefit.”

“I see the positives in everything, I know I have to. I have big faith, because it proves every time it gets you big blessings.”

“It’s been a real cool journey.”

A decent place to live – a basic human right

During 2021, of attendees who attended the Ready to Rent course run by Habitat for Humanity Central Region, 40 per cent went on to gain private rentals. Eight per cent were housed with family, or in social housing.

The MSD-funded course is deliberately kept small to help foster conversation and connection, and is limited to 20 people.

Habitat for Humanity Central CEO Nic Greene said the certificate given as part of course completion was intended to be a reassuring endorsement for landlords.

“There’s stigma attached to emergency accommodation – that can become a long-term living situation for many families.”

Greene said that for some of the course attendees, at first, it’s “scary”.

“They don’t know who Habitat is, they don’t know each other, and they’re not sure about learning.”

Greene said they find fellowship in being in a room with others going through the same situation. And the knowledge shared by Habitat and other experts is “real talk”.

“We’re honest about things like landlord communication, and we give them detail and background about why basic maintenance is important. Habitat’s traditional focus isn’t on emergency and transitional housing, but getting involved with real solutions is something we can do.”

Amy Newton recommends anyone who has the opportunity attends Ready to Rent.

“I’d say grab it with both hands. Because it’s something that’s about your growth. Hearing from other people where they’re at, and who they want to be – and it’s just two days, it flew by.”

Greene says the course is about meeting people “where they’re at, and giving them tools to move forward.”

Emergency accommodation – why Ready to Rent is needed

The New Zealand Housing Continuum is the model recognised in the community housing sector and by Government that identifies housing types matched with people’s needs.

“The issue that we’ve got in front of us is massive, there’s not a single solution to that problem, and it’s across the whole housing continuum,” Greene says.

“At the bottom end of the housing continuum, this is where you will hear the terms Emergency Housing and Transitional Housing – it’s here that as a nation, we’re spending a bucket of money, but we need to give people pathways out of this type of accommodation.”

“Across New Zealand, there was $31.7million spent on emergency housing special needs grants during June 2022.”

“We’re talking such massive numbers that people get insulated from the fact it’s real.”

According to the Government’s Monthly Housing Update, Waikato households in emergency accommodation in Waikato reduced from 774 to 759 May to June this year. Greene says it’s probable some of these were the 20 Ready to Rent graduates who attended courses in the months prior.

“We don’t have all the answers – but we do know that wraparound intensive support through Ready to Rent is working for some individuals in Hamilton.”