Wellingtonians say; “Everyone deserves a home – no more homelessness!”
“Housing is a basic human need and access to decent quality, affordable and safe housing should be seen a human right. This means that our society and more specifically the State has an obligation to ensure that everyone living in New Zealand always has access to adequate and secure housing. We further believe that this obligation means that housing needs to be considered as more than a commodity whose allocation is decided entirely by markets and the profit motive.” – Hikoi for Homes/Child Poverty Action Group
Wellington, NZ, 21 November – Around two hundred people gathered in Cuba Mall, central Wellington, as part of a nationwide day of protest at growing homelessness; poor standards of housing; state house privatisation, and lack of long-term stability in rental accomodation;
After safety instructions were issued by Ian Harcourt, one of CPAG’s march organisers, the protesters set off through the streets of Wellington, headed to the Civic Square;
Throughout the entire event, there was only a brief, sole police presence as one lone police car halted traffic to allow marchers to cross a busy intersection;
Greeting the marchers at Civic Square, Nigel Parry and Ruth Prentice, sang a song dedicated to Emma-Lita Bourne, who perished in August 2014 whilst living in a damp, cold house infected with toxic mould. Nigel and Ruth page tribute to Emma-Lita, and to the coroner, who had the guts to speak the truth as to why Emma-Lita died needlessly;
The number of protesters had swelled to around 300 people and constituted a wide cross representation from the community, including many families with children. These were citizens concerned at the direction New Zealand was heading toward;
Banners flew from the various groups involved with the day’s event, including UNICEF, one of the organisers;
Labour’s Grant Robertson was present;
The first speaker, Dr Nikki Turner, from Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), addressed the crowd;
Dr Turner reminded people that twenty years ago, New Zealand signed the UN covenant on the rights of children. She said this included a duty of care to ensure safe, decent housing for children. She asked, “so why are we here today?”
She said that this is a national shame that New Zealand are not providing basic human rights for families in need.
Dr Turner said that as a General Practitioner she was seeing people turning up at her clinic daily, sick, from unsafe houses. They were “sick and recurrently sick, because the houses were not adequate“.
Dr Turner listed poverty-related diseases that were common to people living in damp, cold houses; asthma, colds, chest infections, pneumonia, rheumatic fever, chronic lung diseases, saying that “our housing makes our children sick“. She said cold affects our immune systems, making people more vulnerable to moulds and diseases shared through over-crowding.
“If we fix our housing, we’re going to go a long way to improving our health in New Zealand,” said Dr Turner.
Dr Turner then listed seven issues necessary for government to implement, saying they were achievable;
- To stop the sale of all state and council houses,
- A one billion dollar provision to build more public and social housing,
- Minimum standards for all rental houses,
- Greater tenure protection for all tenants,
- A rent freeze for five years,
- A statutory right to be housed, as a human right,
- State subsidies for modest income-earners for home-ownership, as New Zealanders had a right to a home.
Dr Turner said that the current situation was unfair; costly; and affecting our children. She said that many of the medical problems caused by inadequate housing led to permanent, on-going crippling that would last throughout their lives. “We need to fix this for the future of our community.”
Dr Turner was followed by Dr Philipa Howden-Chapman, from Otago University’s Department of Public Health;
Dr Howden-Chapman pointed out that about a third of New Zealanders lived in rental accomodation. She said that many rental homes were cold and damp, far colder than what was recommended by the UN. She said “they were built in another age, when someone was home most of the time, ventilating the house, and keeping the fires going“.
Dr Howden-Chapman said many homes were between 12 to 16 degrees, making them no warmer inside than outside. She said babies were particularly susceptible, being unable to shiver, and losing heat much faster than an adult. Older people also got colder faster than fit, younger people.
Dr Howden-Chapman said that around a third of houses had mould growing in them. She said that mould at certain times of the year release spores and toxins, some of which were the most dangerous substances known.
According to Dr Howden-Chapman, New Zealand spends $3 billion per annum maintaining the roading network. But there were no equivalent regulations required to maintain rentals at a set standard or provide adequate heating or ventilation. She said Emma-Lita Bourne‘s family had an insulated house, but could not afford heating. By contrast, Europe had solar-heating on houses that constantly prevented homes from dropping below 18 degrees.
“But we don’t do any of that.”
Dr Howden-Chapman asked why we have Health officials going around coffee-bars to check on hygiene or WoF mechanics to check the brakes on our cars, but no one is responsible to check on the quality of rental housing.
It was pointed out that a third of housing-related ACC costs could be saved if unsafe steps and other parts of houses were fixed.
She asked “does this government care”?
Dr Howden-Chapman said it was disgraceful that Bill English admitted that the National government was the “biggest slumlord in the country“ and could “dismiss the whole housing stock”.
She said that a small country of 4.4 million people should be able to work together, with government, local bodies, and NGOs co-operating so that everyone had access to warm, dry, safe housing.
Dr Howden-Chapman decried New Zealand in the 21st century where children were found to be living in cars, camping grounds, homeless in the streets, or containers, or crowded houses. She said it was no accident that children regularly miss school and fall behind in their studies, or end up in hospital Intensive Care, where many die.
She said “we can do better, we must do better“.
Dr Howden-Chapman demanded security of tenure for tenants so that the problem of transient families could be reduced. She said families in Housing NZ homes should be able to stay in one house for as long as their children were at school. Dr Howden-Chapman said it was vital that families moved from a state house be re-housed in the same neighbourhood so that their community links with other people could be maintained, as well as allowing children to remain in the same school.
She acknowledged that many New Zealanders cared about this pressing social problem and asked the government, “do you care?”
Ian Harcourt introduced a musical group, ‘Choir, Choir, Pants On Fire‘. He said that while this protest was about speaking truth to power, that they the singers he was introducing were here to “sing truth to power”;
One of the group’s “novel” acts was to engage the audience with participation; to ask us to raise our hands; extend two fingers; and wave it in the direction of Parliament;
‘Choir, Choir, Pants On Fire‘ was followed by Ariana, from the State Housing Action Network;
Ariana spoke of the formation of the State Housing Action Network as a response to Bill English’s announcement that National was looking at selling up to eight thousand state houses. She called the move despicable, given that there was a critical shortage of state housing in New Zealand.
Ariana announced a petition calling for a halt to forced evictions from state houses, calling it a form of social cleansing. She described the privatisation of state housing as National’s determination to make a profit from the sales. Ariana warned that if National had their way, they would sell the entire housing stock, worth around $15 billion.
Ariana described National’s rationale for the sale, based on the properties being “run down” as just an excuse and nothing more. She said that National had a “track record of selling state houses”. She also pointed out that lack of maintenance of state housing had been caused by successive governments.
Ariana said that it was important that not only new state houses were built, but that the current stock should be brought up to standard.
Ariana congratulated the good work done by CPAG and UNICEF, as well as political parties like Labour, Greens, and Mana giving support. She said we have to work together on this problem by forming a strong coalition to oppose the neo-liberal agenda.
Ariana further stated that when market rents for state houses were introduced in the 1990s, it was predicted that it would be the single biggest cause of poverty increasing. She said that current policies by National were an extension of the 1990s.
She condemned taking money from those at the bottom of the socio-economic heap, and transferred to those who were already wealthy.
Ariana called for an introduction of a capital gain tax instead of taking money from those who could least afford it. She said National agenda would eventually lead to charities taking over the role of providing for the poor, as in Victorian times.
Ariana said that the State Housing Action Network strongly endorsed the seven points put forward by Dr Nikki Turner (see above).
Ariana then led a chant,
“Everybody deserves a home!”
Following Ariana, was Martin, a state house tenant, with Kyrie in his arms (who seemed totally fascinated by the microphone in front of him);
Martin described a state house with nine people living in it’s three bedrooms. He said there was now seven people living in that house, including five adults. Of those people, Kyrie, the little boy in his arms, had athsma. He said such over-crowding was not conducive to good health.
He said he contacted Social Housing Minister, Paula Bennett, to complain of an open drain that was outside the property; the rotting windows inside; and the general state of disrepair. He said Paula Bennett passed him on to Building and Housing Minister, Nick Smith. Martin said Nick Smith advised him to take his case back to Paula Bennett.
Martin invited Paula Bennett to visit Kyrie’s delapidated state house to look at the problems herself. Martin said she refused. (Though this blogger can report that Bennett is not averse to visiting state or social housing when there is a photo-op involving a “good news” story.)
Martin said he had to phone his local MP, Annette King, to try resolve the problem. He said that remedial work was undertaken, but that it was “cheap and shoddy, and they’ve done repairs that are of no fit standard for people to live in“.
He said this was happening all over New Zealand and would be our future. He said Kyrie deserves better.
He encouraged people to stand together; stand strong, and to hold this government to account.
Following Martin, ‘The Ruths‘, entertained the crowd with some beautiful singing. The songs were delightful, as well as political in flavour, in the best tradition of 1960s singer-activists such as Joan Baez. Ruth Mundy on guitar, with Ruth Prentice on violin;
Following ‘The Two Ruths‘, Paul Barton, from the Christian Council of Social Services addressed the crowd;
Paul spoke on behalf on the Living Wage movement, describing it as a response to the growing gap in our society between the rich and the poor. He spoke of the top 10% over the last thirty years having enriched themselves at the expense of the rest of us who have been told “we can’t afford higher wages“.
He said that the wealth gap is shown in the housing crisis where “literally, this hits home”.
Paul said that the Kiwi dream of home ownership is fast evaporating with house prices rising and a growing number of the population resorting to renting. He pointed out that half the population now lives in rented housing. He said renters tended to be younger, poorer, and families.
It was pointed out that the housing and wealth inequality problem was not due to “mysterious forces beyond our control”. He said it has been a direct result of decisions our society has made how we share the bountiful wealth we have in this country. He said we needed to find ways to do things differently.
Otherwise, Paul said, we run the risk of a generation left behind in sub-standard housing.
Paul said the living wage was one response to this problem, where employers paid an income to live, not just “get by”. He said a Living Wage would not only allow people to pay their rent, but also save to buy their own home.
“And that way, paying a living wage overcomes part of the housing affordability problem.”
Paul congratulated the Wellington City Council for having the courage to pay it’s staff and security contractors the Living Wage. He said over 500 workers had had their wages increased from just above the minimum wage, to the Living Wage. He hoped that soon cleaning and recycling-collection contractors would also soon be covered by the Living Wage.
Paul related how workers and their families who had their wages lifted to a Living Wage were motivated to persist to make their lives better.
He added that the Living Wage has not happened “by chance” and that it was the result of a building movement for change. He pointed to the “wonderful support from you people here in Wellington” and said,
“We can achieve change but we need to work together.”
Paul said that people and organisations can work together to make a difference and reduce inequality, and that we did not need to wait for a change of government or change the law.
He said that local authorities like the Wellington City Council played a major part in the Living Wage movement, and were an important part of our daily lives. Paul said that Wellington City Council had a role in the kind of housing that we live in. He said that at the last 2013 local body election it was the Living Wage and building warrant of fitness that were the main political issues.
Paul encouraged Wellingtonians that next year’s local body elections also made housing, warrant of fitness, and social housing a major political issue. He encourage people to get involved in “overcoming this awful housing problem“.
“Don’t say we can’t do something, because we know we’ve already proved we can make a difference.”
Deborah Morris-Travers from UNICEF and ‘Make our Future Fair‘ was the last speaker;
The former Parliamentarian and currently National Advocacy Manager at UNICEF NZ, told the crowd that, as part of the United Nations, her organisation was mandated to stand up for children’s rights all around the world
Deborah stated that New Zealand Aotearoa was currently breaching the rights of its children by not providing an adequate standard of living, of which housing playing a major part.
She said that we all have a part to play in creating a nation that grants all New Zealanders safe and adequate housing, that lays the foundation for our communities and our society. She encouraged people to keep working together on these issues.
Deborah revealed that “the government is madly polling and running focus groups. They’re sensitive to the mood of the public.”
She said we have to keep building the public mood to ensure that our families are kept safe.
Deborah announced that UNICEF was launching the Fair Future Campaign and said that Radio NZ would be airing a story on children’s rights. She said that UNICEF would be working hard on this issue as National was about to start work on it’s next Budget.
“We have got to keep the message upfront in the news media, in social media, in our families, in our communities, that we will not tolerate our children being left behind.”
She said that every year $10 billion was spent on “picking up the cost of child maltreatment and child poverty.” Deborah said this was unsustainable as well as being unjust.
Deborah asked, “What do we value in Aotearoa-New Zealand? What do we stand for? Surely it is be a fairer future.”
She said, “Housing is a fundamental human right. This about rights, not favours!”
As the event concluded, a reporter from Radio NZ interviewed one of the participants;
As far as could be determined, Radio NZ was the only msm that sent a reporter to cover the event. Apparently TV1, TV3, print media, commercial radio, et al, were too busy still dealing with the global fall-out from Ritchie McCaw’s resignation from the All Blacks.
As the protest event came to it’s conclusion, this blogger turned to look up at the sky which had darkened with ominous grey clouds. Fluttering atop the Wellington Civic Building were the five flag-options for the present Flag Referendum;
It was a sobering moment when one considered the symbolism of those five flags.
Notably the $26 million price tag that went with the Referendum.
Fairfax media: Damp state house played part in toddler’s death
Fairfax media: Social housing rollout opens doors for the disabled
The Standard: Hikoi for Homes
Previous related blogposts
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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 23 November 2015.
= fs =
For a better New Zealand…
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~ State housing for life
~ Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!
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