Framing displacement in Glen Innes

This is a repost from Public Address.

Last night, TVNZ reported on two things: one state tenant’s vow to resist eviction from her Glen Innes home, and overcrowding in Auckland state houses. While both things are newsworthy, we should be wary of thinking that one causes the other. TVNZ’s framing – and, actually, the government’s – confuses the issue.

In the report, Dalyce Poulson, a member of a 12 person family in a three-bedroom state house, says, with her baby on her lap:

“We’re struggling with everything. We need a…There’s just not enough houses.”

Later, Niki Rauti, the state tenant who has decided to resist her eviction, and who is described as living on her own in another three-bedroom, was quoted saying:

“They’ve offered me two places to go to. I do not want to go there. I don’t want to be a transient. I would rather stay here and fight.”

When you hear these two things together, it might seem only rational to think that Niki should move, so families like Dalyce’s can live in better homes. In reality, however, such framing of the issue misses a couple of important things.

First, Niki’s house is not going to be filled by a bigger family, it’s going to be demolished so that eventually, other houses can be built there, most of which will be houses for private sale. This is problematic. At present, as Dalyce put it, there’s just not enough state houses, and, as the TVNZ report showed, they’re not being built at the speed previously promised by Government.

Second, Niki’s concerns about transience reflect those of a whole lot of people who are concerned with the effect of Housing NZ’s new policies on relocation (for redevelopment or through reviewing tenancies) on individual and community wellbeing – from Regional Public Health to the Productivity Commission (pdf, p.16).

It’s important to put ourselves in Niki’s shoes. “Place”, David M. Smith wrote twenty years ago, “is necessary for human existence. This goes beyond other needs, such as for food and clothing, and indeed beyond the physical occupation of space and of a structure thereon. Our place, and sense of geographical space or territory, merges imperceptibly with a broader sense of identity, of who we are, of position in the general scheme of things. Satisfaction with all this is central to well-being.”

Smith continues with an idea we should all consider while watching the countdown to the end of Niki’s lease: “Those who would take other people’s place should have very good reason, and the moral principle of universalization, expressed in the question of how they would feel if the positions were reversed, is an appropriate test of whether the reason is good enough.”*

*David M. Smith (1994), Geography and Social Justice (Oxford, Blackwell), p.253, 276 via Tom Slater

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