Bernie Smith, Chief Executive Monte Cecilia Housing Trust – address to Monte Cecilia official opening of Windrush development

Oct 14, 2019 | Events

Windrush Opening – 9am – 10 October 2019 – World Homelessness Day

Firstly let me acknowledge Maori as the traditional owners and custodians of this country and we recogonise their connection to this land, the wind, water and to community. We pay our respects to them, to their culture and to their elders both past and present and those to come

I also acknowledge the many cultures represented here today, particularly our Pacifica Whānau who bring a richness, diverisity and skill set to this country we all should be proud of.

Today is a major day in the life and history of Monte Cecilia Housing Trust and we are delighted to share this day with you. We are pleased Prime Minister – the Rt Honourable Jacinda Ardern – that you could join us, a very special welcome to you. We welcome our local MP Honourable Aupito William Sio, Auckland Catholic Diocese Bishop Pat and James their GM, DCE Ministry Housing & Urban Development Scott & his staff, Andrew, GM Business Innovation Kainga Ora (HNZ) Pukaki, Papakura, Manurewa, Te Puea Marae’s Whanau, Community Housing Aotearoa CE Scott & team, my colleagues from the community housing sector and transitional housing providers, Mike Greer Commercial Team & Build Partners and funders, Chair of the Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board & electorate staff, Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Good Shepherd, Christian leaders, those that travelled from Christchurch, Wellington, our Trust Board and staff & my wife Amanda, in fact everyone I’ve missed welcome, welcome, welcome.

38 years ago Monte Cecilia began assisting homeless families and those living in poverty before any Government party recognised there was an issue until it become a crisis in 2016.

Early 2017 after a number of years of trying with the old 70s rest home on site to create a silk purse out of a sow’s ear with the help of the A Team – Stacy Wymer from Treasury, Josh Stevenson MSD, Lara Bennett PWC & Jonathon Frazer – funding MSD we together found a creative solution model to fund and build this facility that had never occurred before by a community housing provider or done by Government and to date has not been repeated.

What’s different – all other transitional housing providers lease properties owned by others. The 30 units we have will be leased back to Government for ten years, assisting Monte to pay Government back its $8.65 mil loan over 10 years.

The other solution required to be resolved was that Monte only leased this site, so we had to freehold it. In previous years Monte Cecilia was able to get SHU & HIF grants from Government to build or purchase 23 homes for social housing and while we are still paying some of those loans off, there was enough equity uplift in value to mortgage 13 of those properties to pay the required purchase price of $2 mil to freehold the site.

The impact of homelessness on families/Whānau, their communities and the prosperity of our country is impossible to ignore and no matter the cost, our staff and Trust Board members worked hard with the A Team to bring this dream to the reality it is today.

Our new complex will provide warm, safe and secure homes for some of the most vulnerable families in our community. One family moved out of their car into this facility this week. Yesterday we got a call from a couple living in the park, another family who moved in we were apologising to because the lounge suite had not arrived, they said no problem, rubbed their hands on the carpet and asked if they could sit on that, they were just so appreciative.

It will make a huge difference to both their immediate wellbeing, and their chances of having long-term housing security in the future. Getting children back to school. Family getting reconnected to health services, ensuring the correct WINZ payments are being made, an address that allows better opportunities to get a job, and those who have can get a good night’s sleep. The complex has been designed with ultra-fast network, with day time solar panels, units are totally self-contained, 70 sq metres, kitchen and laundry facilities, providing a safe environment for families/Whānau, to get the skills they need to achieve long term safe, warm, affordable and sustainable housing, providing easy access to support services. This complex has an office for up to 20 staff, training room with crèche, a conference room facility, when we can afford it we want to include a playground and BBQ area.

The point of difference is also we future proofed the units so they could become community social housing – by the community, in the community, for the community.

We have partnerships and collaborations with Vaka Tua Tua to provide financial literacy, Kiwi Harvest provide fresh fruit and vegies weekly, St Vinnies for furnishings, we have IT/computer classes that when they graduate they can purchase a refreshed laptop for $50 and they get free Wi-Fi for a period of time. We couldn’t do it on our own; there are many other organisations like Plunket, Diabetes, library, play truck all connected to Monte, assisting us with making a difference.

With MHUD funding we are also going to employ further staff to assist families away from funded motels or transitional housing directly into a long term safe, secure and an affordable housing solution because rent stress was the issue that created their homelessness, Monte calls this housing solutions, not housing first because firstly we do an assessment because we like to match for success – reconnecting families to a home where their work, school, church and social connections are.

Also just approved from MHUD will be one Pacifica and one Māori mentor / coach / community worker for those in our social housing homes still struggling with issues or struggling to implement stuff learnt while in transitional housing – we call this sustaining tenancies at the top of the cliff, not at the bottom

I’ve always believed that we should: Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world; Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead (Anthropologist).

With 13,000 people and growing on the housing register, we also believe there is over 3000 Whānau in motels (SNG’s/contracted) costing the Government mega bucks, and that’s excluding Whānau in transitional housing, this country has to create a whole of housing continuum 10-20 year strategy that looks at the present cost and lack of supply line, to redirecting some of that cost into creative solutions that creates affordable rentals and home ownership. Without Government capital grants over the past two years, community housing providers have over 500 property developments sitting on plans gathering dust, that could have already be creating affordable housing solutions, and that means 500 Whānau in motels and in transitional housing .

Yes, we have what was called HNZ building homes at a rate not seen for years, but sadly little community consultation and in the likes of Northcote families were made homeless and in Northcote and Tamaki we are seeing social engineering where new families are driving back to their old schools, churches and social connections rather than fully integrating into their new community.

In Mangere we are hopeful that Homes, Land & Community along with Kainga Ora consult with the community, build for the community, the cultural diversity and richness in this community needs to be retained. Yes, we need new housing, but new homes that acknowledge culture, acknowledge family connectively, that allow multi-generational families to be living in a single home so family members can care while others work, so families with joint incomes can save to build their own home, where grandparents can teach grandchildren culture, where younger family members can care to their elderly. Prime Minister, Mangere is at high risk of social engineering and what I call gentrification with those living here being forced out. Some of us would like to see a reset on those 2700 demos to create 10,000 homes before it’s too late and the community and CHP’s could assist in the reset

Prime Minister, I’ve got the deal for you. Partner with community housing providers who are in the community for the community. Every Government dollar invested is returned to the Government many times over in savings in the mental health system, prison system, poverty, police, education and on and on. We not only support our tenants, we know them, we know where to connect them when there is a need, unlike developers who pocket profits on Government funded projects we turn those surpluses into more homes and more services.

The community Housing sector over the last 5-10 years has matured and is a group of highly skilled, intelligent & creative people wanting to assist you & your colleagues to reduce poverty and build homes that create strong healthy communities where families thrive & have hopes & dreams, feel they have a future and a hope, become self-sustainable enabling them to stand tall in their culture, faith, gender and as a family unit.

Monte Cecilia had 1623 children, up from 1100 odd the year before and their families seeking our assistance in the last finanical year. 50% were 6 years old or younger. 90% were Maori or Parcifica families.

In the last 12 months Oranga Tamaki Taupo office tried to find a home in Auckland for 8 Tamaki living in 8 different homes across the central North Island in a reuniforcation plan where an Aunt and Uncle would care for them, but their home was a two bedroom home. They had worked with HNZ, WINZ and other agencies unsuccessfully for a year, then Monte got involved and found a home within 4 weeks.

Likewise, about the same time an Auckland homeless family with 8 children, with one stuck in Wellington hospital with a unique health issue, could not be released from hospital and family return to Auckland until they could prove they had a home to return too, found that home, both of those large homes with big rents were made possible by IRRS

Central and local Government cannot resolve this crisis without partnerships and collaborations. The whole housing continuum needs to be funded equally until we can move the crisis end funding to affordable rentals and home ownership at the other end because there is a clear reduction of crisis accomandation needed.

Monte Cecilia is now ready to build more homes but can’t without Government assistance.

Time to get off my soap box, it’s time to celebrate, but lets collaborate and celebrate that together Government and CHPs can resolve this housing crisis over the next ten years.

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