At 9.30 in the morning, July 15, 1999, a police squad landed on the roof of pensioner Len Parker's Balmoral home from a helicopter. He, along with two others, Tony Haines and Grant Morgan, was removed.
For five weeks, the three men had barricaded themselves inside after Housing New Zealand had moved to evict Len due to unpaid rent.
Len had for six years been on a partial rent strike. Only paying 25 per cent of his income on rent, not the market rent set by Housing NZ. (In 1991, National introduced market rents for state house tenants.)
As Len and his two supporters were led outside, I was there with others from the State Housing Action Coalition (SHAC). We gave encouragement to these three ordinary heroes and offered some polite words to the police.
The occupation and eviction was national news. It was decisive in putting pressure on Labour and the Alliance Party to oppose the market rents policy. The Helen Clark Coalition Government elected in late 1999 returned to income-related rents for state house tenants.
I tell this story because today's housing crisis has a long backstory, involving, at times, resistance. Central to that story, however, is the neglect over the years of state housing.
While Clark's Government abolished market rents, they didn't build new state houses in any great numbers or rein in the corporate culture of Housing NZ.
The National Government from 2008-17 went on to sell state houses—many of them ending up in the hands of investors and private landlords.
From a peak of 70,000 state houses in 1990 (most built before 1980), state housing stocks fell before rebounding to about 63,000 today. Thanks to a modest increase in building over the last five years.
The current rate of building isn't enough. There are 22,000 on the waiting list for a state house.
To meet the demand and take the heat out of the rental market will require at least 100,000 new state houses (ideally units, townhouses and apartments) over the next 10 years.
Like numerous other groups and individuals, Child Poverty Action Group is calling for a diversion of scarce building resources from high-end housing to building more state-owned homes.
Private developers simply aren't building for the lower end of the market, where the need is greatest.
John Tookey, professor of construction management at AUT, told Radio NZ that the Government waiting around for developers to do the right thing was a "fool's errand". The Government, he says, "must bankroll large-scale construction."
A consensus is starting to emerge among housing advocates, economists, insiders in the building industry, and interested commentators that we need to embark on a state housing mega-build utilising the latest prefabricated technologies.
Such a project, if launched, would provide affordable housing for the poorest New Zealanders and apply downward pressure to the rental market. This is what the mass state house-building of the 1930s achieved.
The Government as landlord has to be better than the absurdity of $2.6 billion (and rising) being paid each year to private landlords in the form of the Accommodation Supplement. That's $675 a year for every taxpayer in the country.
Getting to the point where we have more affordable homes, whether owned by the state, iwi, community housing providers or the private sector, will take years.
In the meantime, stabilising house rents and reducing the public money paid out in accommodation supplements is an urgent political problem. Finance Minister Grant Robertson hasn't ruled out rent controls.
In Germany, rent increases can be no more than 20 per cent over three years. Something like that needs to be considered here.
Bold interventions by the Government are necessary to ensure all New Zealanders have the right to live in an affordable home.
Perhaps today's activists will yet play a role in pushing Labour, once again, to do what's right.
• Northern Advocate columnist Vaughan Gunson writes about life and politics.