In the space of six years, an Upper Hutt trust has gone from a budget of $10 to meeting the housing needs of 41 vulnerable households.
Having seen the current housing crisis, with people being shut out of housing, the St Joseph’s Parish Upper Hutt Environment, Justice and Peace Group decided that action needed to be taken.
In order to help assist the homeless or those shut out of the rental market, the Upper Hutt Housing Trust was formed in 2017 to challenge the status quo, and provide housing for people shut out of the rental market, due to a lack of secure income or to issues that had made them unattractive to landlords, because they were deemed likely to fail in meeting their contractual rental agreements.
The trust started with a budget of $10 and a staff of volunteers. A private rental property was secured and, with the knowledge of the owner, the property was subleased to a vulnerable tenant.
The trust had to provide support services to ensure the tenant could continue to pay their rent and maintain their rental. Initially, this support was achieved through the work of volunteer staff.
Over time, the trust’s work was noted in the community, and its reputation grew; so much so, that further rental properties were offered by other rental agencies and rental property owners.
This saw the trust portfolio grow, and more people struggling to find and sustain rentals were assisted into housing.
The trust went on to secure a contract with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development to provide transitional housing. This provided an income that allowed the trust to employ staff to manage the rental properties, and to provide assistance to tenants to address issues of debt, and loss of standing in achieving rental credibility.
This was seen by the trust as providing housing first, and on-going support services to maintain secure, affordable, sustainable housing.
Today, the trust subleases and manages 31 rental spaces, providing transitional and permanent housing to 110 people (41 households), tenants and children. It also now owns its first property.
Support services are provided by the trust to all its tenants – those in transitional housing, and those who have moved from transitional housing to permanent rentals secured and managed by the trust.
Properties rented out are maintained at a standard that increases the trust’s credibility within the rental market. This has seen the trust being offered more rentals, which can be subleased to transitional tenants and others excluded from the rental market.
“The trust, through its service, can also cushion the tenant when they are experiencing financial or emotional issues that would otherwise jeopardise their continued housing and see them back in the homelessness loop,” a spokesperson for the trust said.
“The trust manages to achieve above the required maximum of placement of people in transitional housing into sustainable permanent accommodation. This is supported by as far as possible keeping the impact of rental costs to a minimum for tenants who suffer due to rental costs, low incomes, and historical debt,” the spokesperson added.
These outcomes came from the assistance of good quality tenancy management staff, a quality maintenance crew, no frills office space, minimum operational costs, and a highly effective volunteer board, NZ Catholic was told.
Members of the board come from the Catholic parish and other local church communities. Support for the trust has also come from rental business operators. The contributions of volunteer labour, at times, by staff and board members, help the trust to meet its financial commitments across its management and operations.
The trust also operates a furniture collection and distribution service that recycles good second-hand furniture and chattels, which it offers to tenants when setting up households, saving them housing establishment costs.
The trust spokesperson told NZ Catholic that “the trust has walked beside its tenants and advocated on their behalf”.
“They have also provided work experience and supported people into work. This is achieved by hands-on support to secure a job, or by providing sustainable housing that secures people so they can address their employment needs.”
The trust continues to maintain a “highly-achieving” rental support and housing provision service, the spokesperson added.
“We are looking to becoming a community housing provider, and to investigate the operating of a well-resourced and managed seven-day emergency shelter for the most vulnerable who want to come in from the cold.”
Varied wrap-around services are offered that “support and encourage the independence of our people, especially in their ability to improve their income by moving into paid work”.
“The trust’s success is because of its quality staff, minimum operational costs, and a highly effective volunteer board committed to its belief that housing is a basic human right and prayer.”