State tenants and the right to the city

This is reposted from Public Address. 

Last week, the Social Services Committee criticised how Housing New Zealand has gone about the redevelopment of three areas of state housing. It’s about time. By the accounts of the communities of Maraenui, Pomare and Glen Innes, what’s happening looks very different from the glossy photos on the redevelopment websites.

It looks like boarded-up and vandalised housesthe halving of a school roll, or watching bulldozers demolish a neighbourhood, and waiting three years for new houses to begin to appear. It feels like not being heard and losing a home and a community.

The acknowledgement from MPs of the failings of the redevelopment processes, and the admission of errors from HNZ, is a credit to the efforts of state tenants in the three communities over several years. In order to make their voices heard, they’ve tried many avenues. They have marched to their Mayorto their police station, and to Parliament.  They have gathered to physically prevent the removal of houses. They have planted gardenscreated memorials and gathered together to sing, eat and camp out on empty sections. They have made three submissions to the select committee. Their children have made a movie and a submission on how it feels to watch your community disappear.

We should keep an eye on HNZ to make sure they’re true to their word of communicating better with state house communities.  As one state tenant from Pomare told the select committee, while it’s too late for her community, her actions are motivated by a desire to prevent others experiencing what she and her neighbours have been through.

But we should also keep in mind that state tenants did not just protest the process of the redevelopment. They protested the whole idea behind the displacement. In doing so they’re challenging the ideas behind HNZ’s new goal of having no more than 15% state housing presence in any community.

While Housing New Zealand argues for this goal in terms of its putative social benefits, state tenants are right to describe what is actually happening as gentrification: replacing the poor with the rich. Urban renewal is only possible in a place where middle and high income people are willing to move. Land previously used for state housing has been sold. By definition, lower proportions of the new, mixed communities will be poor.[1] The areas selected for redevelopment are close to the centre of their respective cities.[2] They have all been reported as desirable and popular places to buy, where property prices are rising rapidly.[3]

The redevelopments are not just about, as Housing NZ claim, improving communities through mixing the rich in with the poor, and making houses warmer and dryer through the sale of state house properties. Improving shoddy houses and investing in disadvantaged communities is something that should clearly happen, but just as you don’t need to sell a school to improve another school, there’s no reason that funding should come from state house sales.

The clearest beneficiaries of this type of urban renewal are not the poor, but the current and future private property owners of the area, who benefit from living in well-connected, central places, or owning land in areas where prices are rising as the rich buy in.

We already know about Auckland’s housing affordability issues, and how these are compounded by high transport costs for those living on the outskirts. Choosing to displace poor people in one of the few places in central Auckland available to them is working towards a city mainly for the rich.

Like the state tenants of Maraenui, Pomare and Glen Innes, we should challenge public sacrifice for private gain, and work to ensure the right of everybody, including the poor, to the city.


[1] In Pomare’s case, 89 houses were demolished, and 150 new houses will be built13% of the new houses will be owned by community providers, “up to” 13% by the state, and the remainder will be privately sold. In northern Glen Innes, 156 houses are being removed in order to build 260 houses: 78 owned by the state, 38 owned by other social housing providers, and the remainder for private sale. Development in Maraenui, so far, is not on such a large scale or as concentrated: 96 houses have been demolished throughout the suburb, and only 18 new homes are planned.

[2] Glen Innes is 9km from the centre of Auckland. Maraenui is 3km from the centre of Napier. Pomare is 7km from the centre of Lower Hutt.

[3 See: House prices up in MaraenuiProperty Report: Continued property growth but questions over 2014Strong interest in new Pomare subdivisionGlen Innes Area Profile.

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