Housing supports and services in New Zealand: A cross-agency response
Policy Adviser, Strategic Policy, Department of Corrections
Jemma joined the Department of Corrections in early 2018. She holds a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Otago.
Transitioning from prison into the community is challenging, especially when access to suitable, stable housing is limited. Housing issues can increase a person’s risk of re-offending and limit meaningful reintegration.It may also mean that a person spends time in prison when they could remain in the community on bail, or be released earlier on parole. Therefore, when there is an acute shortage of housing, there can be a compounding impact on the prison population.
To realise the government’s intention to significantly reduce the prison population over the next 15 years,, we need to consider housing options that enable bail, home detention and parole to be viable options.
Addressing the housing needs of people in Corrections care will also help to improve access to social and affordable housing and reduce child poverty because:
- people who are convicted of criminal offences are concentrated in the most deprived deciles with the greatest housing need
- approximately 74 percent of people in prison are parents, with Māori prisoners estimated to have an average of 3.4 children each (Te Puni Kōkiri, 2011).
It is important to note that “housing”, for the purposes of this article, encompasses more than just a physical address. It includes the navigation services that can help people to access public and private sector housing, and the supports that help people to achieve stability when they have somewhere to live (including living skills and connections into the wider community – what is often referred to as “supported accommodation”). Further, this article does not encompass some of the more intensive housing options that Corrections currently provides for some of its highest risk individuals.
Current provision of housing in New Zealand
A variety of state-funded services are available to people in New Zealand with a housing need. These services fall into the following four categories on a continuum: short-term emergency accommodation, transitional housing, public housing and long-term housing options (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 2017).
The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) holds overall responsibility for ensuring access to housing for people who have difficulties finding accommodation independently. However, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides the funding to enable the public housing places. Those convicted of an offence are entitled to the same service from MSD as any other potential client.
Housing New Zealand (HNZC) is the largest provider of public housing, together with a number of community and local government providers, including registered Community Housing Providers (CHPs). Both HNZC and CHPs receive a subsidy from HUD to make up the shortfall between the market rent of a property and the tenant’s contribution. A similar “subsidy” is paid to transitional housing providers.
A significant number of local authorities also own and manage affordable housing. For example, Wellington City Council owns over 2,000 units and houses at over 40 locations across Wellington. However, ex-prisoners released into the community may struggle to benefit from the council’s services if they do not fit into one of five priority groups (Wellington City Council).
Prisoners may also struggle to afford council housing, as councils generally do not receive the subsidy payments from central government. As a result, their tenants often pay more rent than tenants in public housing.
People managed by Corrections face barriers to housing
There are a number of challenges unique to those managed by Corrections who are in need of accommodation. These can limit their access to housing and housing support services available. This can lead to people:
- going to prison when they might not otherwise
- staying in prison longer
- relying on emergency and transitional housing for extended periods of time
- residing in inadequate or inappropriate accommodation that can increase their risk to the community.
Competition for a scarce resource is increasing
Demand for both public and private housing has increased dramatically in recent years. The demand for public housing has increased over 70 percent in the year from 31 December 2017 to 31 December 2018, with 10,712 people on the register as of 31 December 2018 (Ministry of Social Development, 2018).
The majority of New Zealand’s public housing was built in the 1950s and 60s, when the predominant household type was a family with children, rather than single person or no-children households. As a result, there is currently a shortage of single bedroom homes in the HNZC portfolio, with approximately 40% of their homes being three-bedroom (Housing New Zealand, 2018).
Further, MSD data indicates that in December 2018, 44 percent of people on the register were waiting for a one-bedroom property, which is of greatest demand among released prisoners (Ministry of Social Development, 2018).
Increasing numbers of people are also waiting to be transferred into more suitable public housing. There were 2,374 applicants on the Transfer Registers on 31 December 2018. This is an increase of about 54 percent compared to December 2017 (Ministry of Social Development, 2018).
In addition, competition in the private rental market means that landlords can be more selective about to whom they rent properties, which can also influence the price of rental properties, meaning that people leaving prison are often disadvantaged. As a result, there is an increasing reliance on emergency and transitional housing (Ministry of Social Development, 2017).
Housing-related supports are hard for prisoners to access
There are significant barriers for the majority of people who need support immediately upon release from prison, such as:
- the general two week “stand-down” period for benefits applies to released prisoners, delaying access to some critical supports necessary to access housing
- the increasing disparity between the only financial support available to prisoners immediately on release (Steps to Freedom, which provides a one-off payment of $350) and the cost of living and accommodation.
However, recent initiatives have sought to address these issues. For instance, the pilot re-integration project run by Work and Income provides dedicated case managers for people immediately before and after their release from prison.
The Creating Positive Pathways initiative between Corrections, HUD and MSD began in August 2018 and will support 250 ex-prisoners over four years with public housing and support services. As at 30 April 2019, 11 clients have been housed through this initiative.
Corrections is also currently in discussions with MSD regarding possible opportunities to limit the implications of the two-week benefit “stand-down” period on people leaving prison.
Access to the public housing register
Prisoners cannot generally access the public housing register as they tend to be classified as housed, unless their release is both scheduled and imminent. This is a particular barrier for those on longer sentences, as the timing of release on parole is determined by the parole board and cannot therefore be definitively scheduled. Delaying released prisoners access to stable housing leads to an increasing reliance on emergency and transitional accommodation.
Another issue applies to remand prisoners seeking release on bail. Remand prisoners are unable to access the housing register because their release date is often unknown, but they also can’t apply for bail without accommodation. While accommodation may be a key component of any bail proposal, it is rarely the only consideration and release remains at the discretion of the court.
A data matching exercise between Corrections and MSD has been undertaken to better understand how the social housing register is working for people leaving prison. Through data matching, Corrections hopes to determine how many people leaving prison go onto the register, what their priority ratings are, and how long on average they remain on the register before being placed into public housing.
Corrections has taken on a greater role in funding accommodation and related services
Ideally, people would exit prison and reside in public or private housing, and Corrections would focus on managing and supporting their offending-related needs. However, Corrections has incrementally expanded its provision of contracted housing supports for released prisoners, in part because social housing providers and the private rental market are not able to meet demand. Examples of the housing supports and services that Corrections currently provides are listed below.
To address a shortage of housing for long-serving prisoners released into probation management, Corrections contracts almost 1,000 supported and emergency accommodation places each year, delivered by non-government providers across New Zealand. The length of time that someone may spend in supported accommodation varies – emergency accommodation can be for up to six nights, transitional accommodation for up to three months. To meet current and future demand, these services are being expanded and $57m was allocated in Budget 18 for this purpose.
Corrections also funds ($1m per year) and operates Tai Aroha,a residential treatment facility in Hamilton for high-risk men with a history of violent offending. This is a 16-week rolling programme for approximately 10 residents at any one time and is run by Departmental psychologists and supervisors. A reintegration co-ordinator also works with residents to assist with their exit planning as they reach the end of the programme.
Employment and Accommodation Service
The Employment and Accommodation Service provides housing and employment support to eligible people leaving prison who are returning to their communities in the Bay of Plenty and Auckland. Corrections works with its providers to offer up to three months’ accommodation immediately following release from prison. While in temporary accommodation, the provider will also assist the individual to source and secure permanent and suitable accommodation in the designated area.
In partnership with Nga Maata Waka, Corrections is leading a new service called Manapou Wahine. Manapou Wahine is tikanga and marae-based and provides wrap-around services for women managed by Corrections in Canterbury. It is available for women in prison as well as those on home detention or released from prison, with priority given to Māori. This new programme combines rehabilitation with reintegration support.
Residential Therapeutic Community for Women
In partnership with Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga, a Ngati Kahungunu social services provider, Corrections has established a residential reintegrative therapeutic community that provides support for Māori women on home detention and parole. The programme, E Hine, aims to address the individual needs of Māori women by providing a reintegrative pathway based on kaupapa Māori principles and holistic wrap-around support.
The service is based in a Housing New Zealand property in the Hawke’s Bay, accommodating 12 women at any given time for a period ranging from three to six months.
Tiaki Tangata is a whānau-centric wrap-around case management service that supports long-serving Māori prisoners reintegrating into the community. This service operates across New Zealand and includes up to 12 weeks of transitional accommodation immediately on release. It also supports people to find sustainable accommodation, paid employment and reconnect with their community.
Where to from here?
Corrections has a particular interest in ensuring that people have accommodation to facilitate their rehabilitation and reintegration, thereby reducing their risk of re-offending.
People with a criminal history, or who are under Corrections’ management, are entitled to the same services and supports as every New Zealander. However, the recent general housing shortage, combined with existing barriers that prevent prisoners accessing accommodation, has necessitated Corrections taking on more responsibility for the direct provision of housing services.
It would be preferable that Corrections doesn’t duplicate the role of other agencies, but instead limits its role to delivering services which are specialised and focused at people with particular offence-related needs.
It is also important for Corrections to leverage the resources of social sector agencies and stakeholders and to partner with organisations that have the mandate and expertise to provide housing for vulnerable populations.
These partnerships will become increasingly important given the unprecedented volumes of people leaving prison with an accommodation need, and the opportunities that are opening up as government moves to increase the net supply of social housing.
Over the last year or so Corrections has strengthened its relationships with key agencies in the housing space. Corrections’ partnership with Housing New Zealand has continued to grow, with partnered processes being finalised to support the delivery of further accommodation projects.
MSD and HUD have now joined the Corrections Housing and Support Service Governance Board which will help to strengthen the work across the sector and create new opportunities for additional housing. The projects are progressing through their initiation phases and a number of ideas are being explored.
 This distinction is important in the academic literature on the effectiveness of housing interventions in reducing re-offending, which finds that a physical address alone makes little or no significant difference.
 The five priority groups are: the fit elderly, refugees and migrants, low-level psychiatric, multiple disadvantaged, and people with physical disabilities.
 Providers include the Salvation Army, PARS and Anglican Action.
 Providers are Goodwood Park Health Limited in Bay of Plenty and Auckland, and MUMA Whānau Services Limited in Auckland
Housing New Zealand. (2018). 2017/18 Annual Report. Retrieved on 18.04.2019 from https://www.hnzc.co.nz/assets/Publications/Corporate/Annual-report/HNZ16172-Annual-Report-2018-v23.pdf
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. (2017). Briefing to the Incoming Minister of Housing & Urban Development. Retrieved on 09.02.2019 from https://www.beehive.govt.nz/sites/default/files/2017-12/Housing%20and%20Urban%20Development.pdf
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Wellington City Council. (n.d.). Housing support- who can get Council housing. Retrieved on 18.04.2019 from https://wellington.govt.nz/services/community-and-culture/housing-support/council-housing/how-to-apply/eligibility
Wellington City Council. (n.d.). Housing support- about the Council’s social housing. Retrieved on 18.04.2019 from https://wellington.govt.nz/services/community-and-culture/housing-support/about-the-councils-social-housing