Tracey Harris, who lost her baby son in Christchurch earthquake, becomes homeless

Six years after the earthquake killed her baby, Tracey Harris has found herself homeless.

Since February, she has lived in a car, with relatives and, this week, in a motel unit. 

Harris, whose 8-month-old son, Jayden, died after a television fell on him in the February 2011 earthquake, admits she has not always been the best tenant, but says she needs a home to turn her life around.

"Our life was almost perfect. Then, in a matter of seconds, everything changed for the worse, and nothing's been consistently good since," she said. "I need a house to fight to get my kids back, get my life on track and be stable."

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The Tenancy Tribunal ended Harris' tenancy in a Housing New Zealand (HNZ) home in February due to arrears of $1836. She had been living there since July 2012. Property damage of $3160 was found.

Harris and her then partner, who lived in the house since October 2014, could not find anywhere to stay so spent several weeks living in his Mitsubishi Legnum. 

Since then, Harris has spent time living in the car, with relatives and in temporary emergency housing facilities, while struggling to find a permanent home. 

"I was applying every single day on Trade Me for houses, but I learned the hard way that landlords expect you to have a perfect credit history, perfect references and to be working."

She said losing her son in the earthquake sent her into a spiral of post traumatic stress disorder and depression. 

"It took me 12 months to even have a clear head," she said. 

"If I could end up like [Deputy Prime Minister] Paula Bennett, where she came from being a single mother, very young, on the benefit, state house, to where she is now, I'd be happy."

Harris has six living children, two of whom were born before the quake.

Her twin daughters Kaylee and Alexis, born in 2013, gave Harris hope and purpose, until her relationship with their father ended in 2014. The twins live with their father. 

Harris does not work because of her depression and attends regular counselling sessions. Her mental health issues mean her children do not live with her. 

She and her former partner got behind with the rent at the HNZ property when he lost his job, she said.

He paid the $180-a-week rent while Harris put her Working for Families benefit towards her children, she said.

After weeks in the car, Harris and her then partner stayed with his aunt out of "sheer desperation". After about a month they could no longer stay there so went back to living in the car. 

"I got very, very sick to the point that I missed two weeks of contact with my kids … I ended up at the doctor twice. I ended up with bronchitis and a chest infection."

In May, Harris successfully applied for emergency accommodation assistance so they could stay in a motel, before being moved to a transitional housing placement. 

This ended when her relationship broke up and she had to find other accommodation options. She spent a couple of weeks with family then moved into a motel on Friday through WINZ support. 

She said her accommodation is only paid for until Friday. After that, Harris does not know what she will do. If she cannot find somewhere by then, she would be moved to another motel, and have to start paying for accommodation at a subsidised rate, she said. 

She said the situation caused "a lot of stress".  

Harris has been suspended from renting a Housing New Zealand home for a year, as this was the second time she went into arrears in 10 years of renting their houses. 

She had caused $3875 worth of damage at a previous HNZ property, HNZ area manager Robin Mason said.

Mason said they "repeatedly" tried to engage with Harris to sustain her most recent tenancy.

"Most tenants look after their houses, pay their rent on time and are respectful of their neighbours.

"We expect all tenants to treat their tenancy respectfully."

He said HNZ tried to engage with Harris both before and after the Tenancy Tribunal hearing.

MSD regional director service delivery Canterbury Shane Carter said they were in regular contact with Harris to discuss her housing needs, but understood the stress of her situation and her ongoing health concerns might make it hard for her to talk with them. 

"We encourage her to keep talking with us so we can look at suitable options for her."

Carter said Harris contacted them in November 2016 to discuss help for rent arrears. MSD told her what was needed for the application, but she did not supply it.

"When she called to apply for this assistance again, in February, the details of her tenancy were being considered by the Tenancy Tribunal. 

"We asked that she provide us with confirmation that she could remain in this property if the arrears were paid, but we did not receive this."

He said Harris put in an application for MSD's social housing register when her relationship ended, which was reviewed several times because of changes in her circumstances.

"Now she has confirmed her situation with us, we have been able to complete her application."

As of June 2017, the mean time for someone to be housed through the register was 116 days.

 - Stuff