New Zealand: Community, MANA defend public housing

September 16, 2014
Public housing tenants Yvonne and Niki. MANA supporters gathered on September 15 at the site of the first state house torn down

It is a story that will be familiar to many residents of the Sydney suburb Millers Point: a suburb with long-standing public housing that provides affordable accommodation to low-income residents is at the centre government attempts, at the behest of property developers, to remove public housing tenants and free up land that just happens to feature prime water-side views.

But, like at Millers Point, the residents of the Auckland suburb of Glen Innes are not going quietly — and they have the support of MANA Movement MP Hone Harawira, who was arrested at a 2012 protest by residents trying to stop authorities from evicting public housing residents.

On September 15, Harawira returned to Glen Innes with MANA supporters and local residents resisting eviction to launch MANA’s housing policy ahead of the September 20 national elections. Running as Internet MANA in alliance with the Internet Party, MANA hopes to have more MPs join Harawira in parliament to oppose the pro-developer and big business policies of the major parties.

The launch took place at the symbolic address of 25 Silverton Avenue. This was the site of the first state home that was demolished by authorities on April 17, 2012, after an ongoing occupation by protesters.

The lot remains vacant, but the government-owned land is land-banked for sale to a private developer. A home for a low-income resident means little to the National Party government of John Key, but the land, with its ocean view, is valuable.

Harawira said the attack on public housing came at the same time as Auckland experienced a shortage of affordable accommodation: “When families are living in cars, garages, cockroach-infested caravans and three families to a house then we have a housing crisis.”

“When you have a housing crisis for low-income families what should you do? Build more houses.”

Harawira said MANA planned to build 10,000 state homes for rent — or rent to buy — every year until no more needed to be built.

“New Zealand did this in the late 1940s and we need to do it again, desperately,” he said. “And it has to be the government rolling up its sleeves because nowhere in the world at any time have property developers built quality, affordable homes for low-income families.

“The best ‘the market’ provides is a cardboard shack on the side of the road as happens in many other countries and has already begun in New Zealand.”

Harawira said that in the first stage of the Glen Innes redevelopment, the government aimed to slash the number of state houses from 156 to 78. He noted: “Low-income families are being pushed out of their community to South and West Auckland.

“National is a party for property developers, not people — another reason we need a change of government.”

MANA housing policies include plans to abolish homelessness, cap rents at 25% of income for public and social housing, and new home owner schemes to provide low-interest loans to Maori and low-to-middle-income citizens. You can read the full policy here.

Niki (pictured above) is a long-time public housing resident in Glen Innes. She told Green Left Weekly: “I’ve been given my 90 day notice to move out of my house. I don’t want to move.

“I’ve got a sea view. Why can’t I stay where I am? It is a land grab. Where we are standing is land-banked. There are a lot of places like this. They are empty, but there is a housing shortage in Auckland and across New Zealand.

Niki said she has been offered two other places to move to, but said: “I don’t want to give up my security, because you lose that once you sign a new contract and move from place to place.

“I want security, so I am going to stay where I am. They have made it quite clear that I have to move, and I told them they’ll have to drag me out.

“There will be protests to protect my house. I can’t see any other way. What they are doing is wrong. We have a lot of elderly, sick and disabled people in these houses. They want security, they don’t want to move from place to place.”

Yvonne (also pictured above) is also a Housing New Zealand tenant who is active in the campaign to defend public housing, much of which was built in the aftermath of World War II for returning soldiers and other working-class families. Yvonne pointed out the connection, highlighting how many of the streets in the area were named after the site of famous battles.

She told Green Left Weekly: “This is about state houses, there's 69,000 of them. These houses are being taken away by greed.” She said greed took the form of developers “that come and take the houses off the land and use it for investments”.

Yvonne said: “State tenants, those that have signed contracts, are the ones who arrant these houses. It includes the sick, that are poor, that haven’t got jobs — they warrant these homes.

“But unfortunately the government are taking them, and turning it into a profiteering business.”

She said public housing in the area “was being turned into a company, but it was never meant to be a company”.

“This is about a human right for need, not for greed. When you sell a house for $800,000, it is going to be greed that can afford it, not need.

“This affects people like my husband, who has cancer. We are in a state house, we are on a state tenancy for longevity — not for three years, but for longevity.”

On MANA’s policies, Yvonne said: “They always say we need to look after those in need, and MANA’s policies are doing exactly that. They will set us up for the future, for the meek, the mild and the poor.”

Lisa Gibson, MANA candidate for Tamaki (pictured above), which covers Glen Innes, told Green Left: “For us, especially here, housing a big issue.

“For the present National government, of course, its solution to our housing crisis is to evict our families in state housing.

“We are standing on the site of the first home removed. That was three years ago. They told us they needed to get these cold, damaged homes off, to put up better housing for state tenants. Yet three years later there is nothing here, but the family was removed on that pretext.

“All around this area, there won’t be Housing New Zealand going on. Probably, this land will be sold to private developers to make big hunks of money, because there is a great view. Where was it said that if you are poor and vulnerable, you don’t deserve to have that view?

“So housing is a very big issue. We also have a big unemployment issue. We also want to focus on domestic violence and education for the tenants. MANA’s policy is free education right up to tertiary level.

“MANA wants the housing portfolio to stay with the government. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure there is warm, decent housing for the people.

“Also, there is also a housing shortage, so we would build 10,000 homes in the first year, and every year after that until there is no crisis. We would also start up a Maori Home Owners Scheme with no deposit and with low interest loans, and also for low-income earners.”

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