John Minto: Communities turfed out - you'd be angry too

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Poor brown families in Glen Innes are being forced out of their homes to make way for high-income housing. Photo / NZ Herald
Poor brown families in Glen Innes are being forced out of their homes to make way for high-income housing. Photo / NZ Herald

Aucklanders could be forgiven for not understanding why so many Glen Innes residents are hotly opposed to the promised "redevelopment" of their suburb.

Who could object to a project which promises major upgrading of state houses, refurbished community facilities, improved education, more job opportunities, better shopping and recreational areas, and so on?

It sounded good when the plans were announced in 2008. The public relations list was long and only a few ripples of concern went through the community.

However with a change of government and the release of more details, these concerns quickly mushroomed to widespread, outright hostility. Numerous large public meetings have expressed community anger and there are now weekly violent clashes with police who provide escort duty for the dozens of state houses being trucked out of the community.

It's worth remembering that the area being "redeveloped" by the Tamaki Transformation Programme (Glen Innes, Point England and Panmure) was settled in the aftermath of World War II and street names reflect some of the battles where New Zealanders fought the rise of fascism. Dunkirk, Tripoli, Tobruk, Benghazi and Alamein Rds are there along with Upham and Ngarimu Rds remembering Victoria Cross winners Charles Upham and the Maori Battalion's Moana Ngarimu.

A large war memorial reserve beside the Tamaki estuary provides a reminder of the history and a place to celebrate community life after six years of war.

Returning soldiers and their families moved into this community in large numbers with the then Government providing much-needed housing.

It's an example of the best of urban development from the 1950s when every family could expect a decent standard of living.

Generations of kids have now grown up in these well-treed properties with robust houses on large sections.

But it needs reinvestment. Like all low-income communities it was hit hard by the devastating economic policies of the 1980s and many state homes need refurbishment. But the Government has other plans.

Back in 2008, the then head of the redevelopment project Pat Snedden told the community: "There will be no requirement at all for any existing tenant in any state house to move out of the area as a result of anything that occurs here. There will be no reduction in state houses as a result of anything that occurs here."

However in the first stage of redevelopment under way now, state housing is being halved (from 156 to 78 homes) and families on low incomes are being forced to abandon homes they have lived in for decades.

It's small wonder the community feels betrayed and abused because, behind the public relations spin, the "transformation" is in reality social and ethnic cleansing on a grand scale.

Poor brown families are being forced out of their homes on the slopes of northern Glen Innes to make way for high-income housing. For the Government it's a case of "maximising the return from their property portfolio" which translates to "families on low incomes don't deserve homes with a sea view".

The last time property developers eyed such rich pickings from the seizure of land from low-income families was at Bastion Point. A similar struggle is emerging in Glen Innes.

The Government claims there will be more and better options for local families with more private housing and "social-housing", but this simply confirms the threat to families on low incomes. Reducing state housing forces them into higher cost housing or out of the community altogether.

The Government-appointed interim board to oversee the project looks as though it could happily represent Remuera but is hopelessly out of its depth in understanding the Glen Innes community.

Chair of the board is Lee Mathias, best known for her involvement with the National Government's ill-fated hospital part charges policy of the 1990s. I have never seen a more patronising, unsympathetic and incoherent response to any community than that delivered by Ms Mathias when she addressed an angry and bewildered community meeting in Glen Innes earlier this year.

It seems the National Party appointees on the board don't understand the concept of community. They don't seem to live in communities themselves and express surprise when people object to the uprooting of Glen Innes, home by home, street by street. They won't be happy until this last piece of coastal Auckland which is still occupied by low-income families is handed over to property developers to create another McMansion suburb by the sea.

These developments are taking place elsewhere around the country where 700 state houses face removal or demolition, despite the desperate need for more state housing.

Amazingly, the Government claims there is less demand for state housing but this is only because from July last year they dramatically tightened the criteria for obtaining a state house.

Instead of new applicants for state housing being classified from A to D (highest to least urgent need), only those in category "A" are considered.

As a result many families are not eligible and have to share overcrowded private rentals or are doubled up in relatives' state houses.

In Maraenui in Napier, for instance, there are 70 empty state houses and very few on the waiting list while overcrowding in local homes is rife.

At the base of this housing crisis is a moral crisis within the Act/National Government. The upside is that communities around the country are finding their voice and fighting back.

All strength to their arms.

John Minto is co-vice president of Mana Movement.

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- NZ Herald

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