Churches hold housing forum in Wellington ahead of general election

Aug 14, 2017 | News

The community health worker spoke to hundreds gathered at the Cathedral of St Paul and a selection of party representatives about a single mother who had been kept in emergency housing for four months. The mother was originally evicted from her rental home for unpaid rent.

Over the time she was being shifted to different motels by the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry spent about $13,000 on her, $3000 of which she paid back.

The community health worker said if the Ministry had paid the mother’s overdue rent, it would have cost them less than $2000.

The single mother’s story was just one of several presented to the pack of MPs this evening, which included Associate Housing Minister Alfred Ngaro, Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford, UnitedFuture candidate Roger Ellis, and The Opportunities Party tax spokesperson Jenny Condie.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei was supposed to be speaking at the event, organised by the Anglican and Catholic churches of Wellington, but after her resignation this evening she did not attend the forum, nor did any representative from Green.

600 people attended the forum and you can see the video presentations and read the report here.

Another speaking at the forum was a 24-year-old masters student, Anna, who shone a light on the dire situation many renters faced.

She said one of the worst flats she’d lived in was a bottom-storey apartment on Vivian Street, “which the sunlight never reached”.

There was constant condensation and growth of green mould, and Anna suffered recurring bouts of strep throat.

Her asthmatic flatmate’s doctor had to ask the landlord to let her out of the tenancy agreement early as living in the apartment was bad for her health.

The landlord argued the dampness in the flatmate’s room was due to her partner sleeping in there with her.

“With two people breathing in the room, what else could she expect?”

Anna said there was inadequate enforcement of existing laws put in place to protect tenants, a lack of affordability, and a lack of security of tenure.

“I know I’m in a position of privilege . . . what about people who don’t have these privileges?”

Another woman read out a letter from an Upper Hutt woman who had a 15-month-old daughter with respiratory problems. The baby has been hospitalised six times and has a weak immune system.

The mother was house sitting for friends who were overseas, but approached Work and Income when she knew the friends were soon to return, as she could not stay at their house. She was told to come back seven days before she needed housing.

When she returned, she was told again to come back two days before she needed housing.

When she came back the third time, she was told there were more steps she needed to take before she could be given emergency housing, the letter said.

The mother was told she could sleep in a marae – which was not an option due to her daughter’s compromised immune system – or move to Porirua, away from her support system and family.

The woman still has no certain housing but the advocate reading her letter said they would not leave the woman to fend for herself.

Hundreds of Wellingtonians are expected to pack out the Cathedral of St Paul at an election housing forum this evening.

Bishop Justin Duckworth said before the forum the housing crisis was “the key issue” in the upcoming election.

“We all know the stories: friends who can’t afford a home or struggle to pay their rent, families forced to pay for a motel or sleep in their car because of the lack of social housing, children getting sick because their home is too damp and cold,” he said.

He has called on the Anglican diocese of Wellington to join a period of prayer, reflection and action on housing ahead of the election.

“As church members – homeowners, renters, landlords, communities and voters – we will consider the part we can each play. New Zealand has the worst rate of homelessness in the OECD, with 40,000 people living on the street, in emergency housing or in sub-standard garages and sheds. This simply isn’t good enough and we need a solution.”

The severity of the crisis was reiterated by Cardinal John Dew, who said “too many New Zealanders are facing real difficulties finding affordable, warm, secure housing. Ensuring adequate housing is one of the most significant ways we can reduce poverty and improve wellbeing. We look forward to a discussion of the different policy proposals being put forward by political parties to address the housing crisis.”

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