Written by Indira Stewart for RNZ

Residents in the South Auckland suburb of Ōtara say they're deeply concerned after being left in the dark about a Māori Mental Health and Addictions housing complex being built near a number of schools.

The building project by the Mahitahi Kainga Trust has been three years in the making and includes a community Manaaki building as well as a housing facility for vulnerable Māori.

Despite council advice to consult with the community during the process, residents say they only found out about the building project three months ago when construction began.

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"They closed off both sides of the road it was hectic and it's been very similar to that since it started. Just noise," said Jane Loto who lives directly opposite the building site on Franklyne Rd in Ōtara.

Construction is well underway for the Papakāinga housing development which will include 41 self-contained bedroom units and a community Manaaki building - a facility that the Mahitahi Kainga Trust has described as a 'gathering place' for whānau.

Photo / Mahitahi Kainga Trust
Photo / Mahitahi Kainga Trust

But on Franklyne Rd it's hard to find anyone who's pleased about it.

Ms Loto's family have lived on the street for 55 years and she said the residential road had been hectic over the past three months with the ongoing construction work.

She said when demolition work first began, everyone on the street was confused.

"Prior to getting a letter on the same day [builders] started the mahi, the residents didn't know what was going on. Then they did receive a letter which was a mailbox drop off. That was the first engagement that Mahitahi Trust had with us and they were quite shocked," said Ms Loto who is the Chairperson of ONAC - the Ōtara Network Action Collective, the community's advocacy group.

Ms Loto said when construction began, residents approached her and asked if the collective knew anything about the building project but it didn't.

So the collective held a meeting in August to hear peoples' concerns.

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"We really can't understand why would they build this kind of facility right smack in the middle of a residential area with no engagement, no community consultation with the community about the build," Ms Loto said.

Right next door to the construction site where the Papakāinga will be built is Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate - children there are enrolled from pre-school to year 13.

Down the road is a kōhanga reo and another pre-school as well as the community's sports facility.

Ms Loto said residents were worried and they wanted answers.

Photo / Mahitahi Kainga Trust
Photo / Mahitahi Kainga Trust

"The residents know that Mahitahi Kainga Trust is a mental health provider. So they're very unsure or worried about what kind of clients will be living there, what level is their mental health? What kind of mental health issues they have?," said Ms Loto.

"They're worried about their families, they're worried about their children, they're worried about the schools and everybody near them."

The office of the Mahitahi Kainga Trust has been on Franklyne Road for about 30 years and after buying the property from Housing New Zealand in 2016, the trust began planning for the build of the Papakāinga and Manaaki building.

Trust chief executive Raewyn Allan said its vision was to provide safe, warm and affordable housing for their whānau.

Ms Allan said the board were hesitant to consult the community until they knew for sure they could go ahead with the project.

"There are huge hurdles and red tape and there's so much to go through. It's very very intricate. There are key milestones that you have to meet," she explained

"So the final part of the funding never happened until the 29th of July this year."

But two weeks after funding was approved, the old Mahitahi Kainga Trust office was demolished and construction began immediately.

Ms Loto said ONAC wrote a letter to the trust asking it to engage with residents in a community meeting so they could hear some of their concerns.

When they did not receive a response a month later, ONAC sent another letter to the trust requesting a community consultation meeting. That meeting is set to take place on Monday night.

NOT A REHAB CENTRE

Ms Allan said the trust had since received threats from local residents who said they would destroy the building once it was built.

She said the reaction from the community had been upsetting.

"I'm really sad that our whānau are perceived like that. It's just not the case. It is so not the case. They are beautiful people. And it was so hurtful. It was really really hurtful," Ms Allan said.

"We want our whānau well. We've always wanted our whānau well. Housing is a basic human right and if you haven't got somewhere to call home, you're lost forever. We wanted to give them a place to call home. It's simple."

The trust's treasurer Dan Harrison agreed.

Construction work on Franklyne Road Otara, South Auckland. Photo / Indira Stewart
Construction work on Franklyne Road Otara, South Auckland. Photo / Indira Stewart

"I've been involved with Mental Health in South Auckland now for over 20 years and we understand what the need is for our people and we would do what we believe is best to give them a home, which is important to all of us. But it's that sense of belonging. You know, making a positive difference to their lives.

"And also we're not going to put people in there that are likely to fail. We are going to put people in there that can live an independent life and just wrap some services around them, when and where needed. But I sense at times people think we're going to be using this as a rehabilitation centre - which it is not."

An information pamphlet mail dropped into the letterboxes of local residents by the trust states that no sex offenders will be living at the Papakāinga facility, the use of drugs and the excessive use of alcohol will be prohibited on the property and support services will be in place for residents known to suffer from addictions if needed.

It also confirmed that people known to be affected by mental unwellness will be living at the facility but staff will be onsite providing ongoing support and services when needed.

Ms Loto said she was recently made aware that the local board had approved the building project providing the trust consult with the community during the process. Local board member Swannie Nelson confirmed this to First Up.

Ms Loto said she had not heard of any of threats made by residents to the trust and the community was disappointed that consultation advised by the council never happened.

"This is our home. We have been here all our lives. We love this community. We love our people. We tautoko the kaupapa of Mahitahi trust but this will have a huge impact not only the residents here but those surrounding the build as well. And we are hoping that we will come to some understanding or some resolution," Ms Loto said.

Ms Allan said they hoped to allay peoples' concerns at tonight's meeting but regardless, the development would go ahead.

"I understand the community's concerns," she said.

"They've got tamariki of their own which they're trying to look after and protect. I absolutely get that. There's been some misconceived ideas around what the Papakāinga is actually for but we are not doing this to fail our people."

The Papakāinga and Manaaki buildings are expected to be completed by the end of next year.

- RNZ