A cross-party scrap at Parliament and anger in the suburbs are brewing after an MP's visit to Hawke's Bay highlighted problems of homelessness and over-crowded accommodation.
Labour Opposition Housing spokeswoman Annette King says she was told of families in Maraenui and Flaxmere who are having to "double and treble up" in single households while dozens of state rentals are empty.
Returning to Wellington after a visit to Napier in which she met worried Maraenui residents on Tuesday, Ms King was particularly concerned at the lack of awareness of the issues among some of her parliamentary colleagues.
She said Maori Party co-leader and coalition Government Associate Minister of Social Development Tariana Turia "must have been out of touch if she's only just discovered homeless families are being denied empty state houses."
Earlier in the day, Mrs Turia said she was "shocked and angry" to hear deteriorating housing conditions and ailments including rheumatic fever becoming "rampant" in the overcrowded conditions which had resulted.
The families she'd encountered in Maraenui and Flaxmere "don't have time for politicking," Ms King said. "They need action."
Action is now being promised by Tu Tangata Maraenui, a group of Maraenui people worried about the loss of more than 60 Housing NZ rental units and homes, all untenanted despite Housing Minister Phil Heatley's claims at that more than 20 are available.
Their Napier City Council representative, Nelson Park ward member Maxine Boag, says the rentals remain empty because few, if any, can meet criteria now being applied by Housing NZ.
The number of empty dwellings represents almost 6 per cent of all dwellings in the suburb and group representative Chantelle Brown said it's caused by the change in Housing NZ criteria in 2011, not by Housing NZ claims that people don't want to live in them.
Housing NZ plans for houses or sections to be taken over by private developers and social housing providers, but Ms Brown says: "There are no social housing providers in Napier who could take this on. And even if they did, they would still be charging market rentals.
"We want the criteria for state houses changed back to what they were 15 months ago, and we want the empty houses refurbished, and re-let to needy families for income-related rent.
"There is a simple solution to the shortage of affordable housing in Napier and that's the end to this purging of state houses and allowing people back into them, paying income-related rents."