Evicted on Christmas Eve – Housing NZ’s relentless policies in Glen Innes

Article by Tony Allen
On Christmas Eve, in Auckland, Housing New Zealand – the State owned housing agency for ‘The Poor’ – was relentlessly executing its policy of either evicting the adult children of tenants whom have died or – by not offering them immediate alternative State housing – inhumanely ensuring they do not attempt to stay in their homes but, instead, leave them – unless, they (that is, the children) can persuade (or a judicial authority can force) Housing N.Z. to allow otherwise.

On Christmas Eve, 20 year old casual worker Sophia Gill was ‘phoned at 8 a.m. by an Housing N.Z. official who asked her if he could collect her keys to her home at 14 Fernwood Place, Glen Innes, Auckland, because she was due to move out of it at 10 a.m. – because, she explained, Housing N.Z. had given her no choice but to do so, simply because her father – Fred, a former builder and, later, pensioner – was the tenant but had died, due to cancer, aged 67, less than six weeks ago, on the 17th of November. Sophia did persuade the official to set a later time – at 2pm – for her relinquishment of her home to Housing N.Z., because he accepted that she was unable to shift her last possessions to her mother’s house, at nearby 20 Clearville Crescent, due to her car having a flat tyre and, therefore, being unable to transport them there.

For several days, she had been ferrying her household furniture from her father’s home to that of her mother’s house (where she may need to live, temporarily) but between doing so and working at a casual job in a factory, she was still not ready to leave, on Christmas Eve.

Finally, though, Sophia, an intelligent and articulate woman (working hard to support herself – in line with her admiration for her father’s commitment to long hours of hard work) was pleased that the official extended the time at which she was to leave her home of the past one and half years with her dying father – by a few days until the 28th of December, three days after Christmas Day.

The official had twice extended her 21 day period (which was the time permitted by Housing N.Z. for her to ‘vacate’ the home) which, otherwise, would have ended around the 8th of December. But this coming Friday would be the day on which she would once and for all time leave the pleasant little home; it was the place from which last Christmas-time and Summer her father and her brother, now five (but whom lived with their mother), had gone down to the end of the street to play at the sea-side in the beautiful Wai O Taiki Bay. But, an extension of time to leave one’s home is far less secure accommodation than being able to remain in one’s home.

Housing N.Z. never offered Sophia her father’s home – that is, they never offered to transfer his tenancy to her; nor did they offer her a home of her own, elsewhere, into which she could immediately move. Instead, they merely extended her 21 days to vacate her home by about 20 days – to allow her to leave and to ensure that she did so (they hoped). None of the communication on vacating the premises was in written correspondence – for, states Sophia, she has received none. All communication between Housing N.Z. with her was verbal. Housing N.Z. did suggest that she could apply for a State home of her own but there were many people already who had applied and were waiting for one – so it could be a long time before one was available for her in which to live. Sophia did not feel encouraged to apply for a home – even though she wanted one.

Housing N.Z. had left her with the impression that she must leave; they did not suggest any legal action which may allow her to stay, if there was such a possibility. Their intent and purpose of communications seemed solely to have been to make certain that she left the home of her father, without offering resistance to Housing N.Z.’s plan for the removal of the house and – possibly – its substitution by more housing for more people on the same property – whether State owned, privately owned or community owned.

But, Sophia did not want to leave the home, the street, and the bay – but, now, on Christmas Eve, Sophia felt compelled to leave them all – as she understood from acquaintances that when a parent who was a tenant died, then, consequentially, the other inhabitants of the home must leave it – even if they were the children. It seemed unfair but she understood, she thought, what may be Housing N.Z.’s reasoning; why should she occupy the two bed-roomed home when other people – perhaps, a small family – may need it more than she does? Even if that was not so, the developers wanted the property, she realised. Everyone in the street had received information from Housing N.Z. that they were part of its Northern Glen Innes Redevelopment project which was removing 156 State homes and selling them to buyers to make way, instead, for 78 State homes, 39 other homes, “possibly” (according to Housing N.Z.) owned or managed by a community group (such as the Salvation Army), and 143 owned by private buyers. This was a total of 260 new homes – although more than half were privately owned and the State housing had been halved.

The house next door was already vacant, without inhabitants – and so was the house across the road. The bay in which Fernwood Place, was located was an attractive place to live; there was fresh air, green vegetation and space, glimpses of the blue sea and a big blue sky, above.

The curtains were blowing gently in the wind, at the open windows of Sophia’s home, this Christmas Eve; she had left the windows open because she believed the street to be a safe one, free from intruders entering her home. But, an intruder had entered upon her property (for it was her property, albeit owned by the State) at the end of last week – a worker for Housing N.Z. who had knocked over her letter box and taken it away. After taking the letter box – as Sophia said she had seen done elsewhere in the street – the house will be taken away and sold, as part of Housing N.Z.’s plan to reduce State housing in the area. She was adamant that this would be so.

Housing N.Z. stated it will reduce the total amount of State housing in the Tamaki area (which included Glen Innes) from 57% of all housing (which included both State and private) down, instead, to the lower level of to 53%, while, too, increasing the amount of privately owned housing. This has been justified by the Minister of Housing, Phil Heatley, as a way to reduce crime – which, he had suggested, had been caused by too many state tenants living in an area.
Sophia would have preferred to stay in her father’s home – as it was there that she had her most recent memories of him. She rejected the statement to this reporter by Housing N.Z. that she was leaving “voluntarily” – as she felt that it did not offer her “options”.

“I’d just like to have a place to call home, as if you’re in someone else’s home, you can not call it your own,” said Sofia, who added that Housing N.Z’s requirement for her to leave her father’s home had further unsettled her after having already been unsettled by his death. This callousness (that of Housing N.Z. leaving her without her home, where she had lived with him) was, in fact, what her father had feared.

Her mother’s home is also designated by Housing N.Z. for removal.

Meanwhile, Marie Winfield, who is the Senior Advisor for Housing N.Z.’s External Communications and Media, explained, on Christmas Eve, in a letter responding to this reporter’s enquiries, that Housing N.Z. had contacted Sophia to tell her that there was “no rush” for her to hand back her home’s keys today but could (instead) do so during the next few weeks. While Winfield was asked if this meant Sophia could stay a few more weeks in her home, she did not reply to this particular question. Housing N.Z. would, also, have accepted any application to assess her needs for a state house but no request for an assessment had been made, she wrote. She understood Sophia was moving to another home.

Winfield explained that people living in State homes who were adult children could “not automatically” take over a tenancy from a parent who died, as this would not be fair to other applicants for State homes – as each applicant must be assessed for allocation of an home, in accordance with the seriousness of the applicant’s needs. The housing was for people with high needs, she wrote. Housing N.Z. usually asked, (in writing, according to Denise Fink, a manager of the former Tenancy Services) people who were not tenants to leave within 21 days. Winfield said that Housing N.Z. was “flexible” and “understanding” and took into account people’s individual circumstances when they were required to vacate within 21 days – as it could be longer, if negotiated to be so. But, people will either “move out by consent” (and she believed that Sophia and Housing New Zealand had decided she would do so by “mutual consent”) or – “if that fails” – Housing N.Z. will get an order from the Tenancy Tribunal to regain possession of the property – but then, next, if the occupants still had not left, Housing N.Z. applied to a Court to get a Bailiff to evict them.

This, in fact, was what Housing New Zealand did to the four members of the Mai whanau of 72 Pilkington Road on Friday, the 14th of December. The whanau, under the Estate of 77 year old May Mai who had been the tenant and whom on the 9th of June had died due to a heart attack, was evicted by bailiffs and six police officers because May’s whanau members had refused to leave their home.

But, on the day of eviction, only one whanau member, 48 year old Janet Mai, was inside the home, as the other three adults had left it before the day of eviction. Janet had lived in the home 45 years as she had shifted in to it with her mother, May, when she was 3 years old, in 1967.

With her was housing activist Jimmy O’ Dea, who was in his seventies. O’ Dea was manhandled out of the home by a police officer holding each arm and another one right behind him, making certain that he kept moving forward.

The police escorted O’Dea away from a banner which said ‘POWER TO THE PEOPLE’, which belonged to the small revolutionary group called ‘Socialist Aotearoa’. It was being held by two members of the Tamaki Housing Action Group, Lisa Gibson (who was carrying a MANA Movement flag) and Marion Peka. This housing group has been protesting against the gradual removal of the 156 State houses in Glen Innes, where its supporters have suffered many arrests and police prosecutions after standing or walking slowly in the streets in front of trucks and trailers belonging to the companies which specialise in moving houses (such as Haines House Haulage, which advertised the houses for sale on its website and, also, Andrews Housemovers Limited); these supporters from within Glen Innes and outside it had attempted, almost every week, this year, to block the companies taking houses away or “stealing” them from the community, as they often shouted, in the darkness of nights when the houses were taken off properties and through the streets, under police guard.

Peka feared that the Mai’s eviction from their Panmure home would be the portent of the evictions which are expected in Glen Innes.

Around half of the 156 tenants targeted by Housing N.Z. to allow their homes to be removed have already agreed to permit it be so but many others are determined to continue living in their homes and to defy Housing N.Z. officers, politicians, house removal workers, security guards, bailiffs, and the police force. The signs of this fierce resistance are already visible to anyone who has witnessed the militant protests against the house removals which have already taken place.

Peka had known the Mai whanau her whole life and had prayed on the stairs inside the house. Gibson said the eviction was “ethnic cleansing” of Maori and Pacific Island people, in order to be benefit “corporate greed” and 1% of the population – which would no longer be tolerated by people, she said.

This same day (14/12), Sean Bignell, the Housing N.Z. General Manager for Group Assets Development announced that ‘Creating Communities’ – which consisted of Arrow International, Hopper Developments, and, also, the Southside Group – would be the companies undertaking the multi-million dollar development for the Northern Glen Innes Redevelopment project, which, itself, would work closely with the Tamaki Redevelopment Company (a partnership between the central Government and Auckland Council) to promote the Tamaki Transformation Programme – which exists to stimulate urban renewal. Bignell said tenants can stay in their homes until the “implementation” stage of construction of the new housing. What this wording precisely means is not immediately obvious.

The project, according to Housing New Zealand, fits in to its own “assets strategy” and, also, the Auckland Council (Draft) Plan’s recognition of the need for more housing. But, there were 1500 state houses in Glen Innes and, stated a Housing N.Z. newsletter, 57% of the housing in Tamaki (which included Glen Innes) was State housing – which, it believed was “too much”. So, the project in Glen Innes will reduce the amount to 53%, it said, but State housing will be increased by 1400 homes in the Auckland region over the next four years.

The reason for reducing State housing in Glen Innes, though, states Housing N.Z.’s web-site, is that it will allow people to own or rent affordable homes, make a “safer and more connected” community and allow the economy to grow. Specifically, people will be able to rent homes from community organisations, at lower than market rents, or, alternatively, to rent or own private homes. Also, State housing will be a better “quality”. In summary, “redevelopment is good for the area,” it contends.

But, it seems as if Housing N.Z. is knowingly pushing out some of the poorest people, as only 78 State homes of the 156 ones to be removed will be replaced by State homes which charge income related rents or market rents (as income increases, so does the rent, even up to a market rent, as this is Housing N.Z’s standard rental policy). People on better incomes will be able to pay below market rents for “possibly” 39 new homes owned or managed by a community group (but probably above existing income related rents). People on much higher incomes are intended to buy 143 new homes built for private owners who can live in them themselves or let them at market rents to tenants. These figures derive from the fact that the Housing N.Z. Northern Glen Innes project specifies that 260 homes will replace the original 156 ones. Its optimistic language about the future opportunities to buy or rent private homes or have the choice of renting from a community group does not negate the fact that Housing N.Z. is halving its original rental properties numbering 156 down to just 78, (while, as mentioned, above, 39 homes are intended to be run by a community group and a huge 143 homes will be built for private owners.) This is not only an attack on the welfare of the poor but, also, a privatisation of part of a State service. Worse, State housing is being reduced in Glen Innes at a time when people felt that poverty had increased. The Poor do not need less State housing in Glen Innes – but more of it. The effect of the redevelopment will cause hardships for many people on low incomes – whether these be wages or welfare payments – as they will need to leave Glen Innes because cheap accommodation will be harder to obtain, as State housing, which would normally provide it, is being ruthlessly destroyed by private property speculators to benefit their own interests. It may force people to share a home and become overcrowded.

To provide the vacant land for this grand theft from the Poor, Housing N.Z. has followed a deliberate strategy in which the poorest have been told (for the benefit of the community) they must relocate, move or transfer somewhere else, whether in Glen Innes or not. These tenants do not appear, yet, to have been told they will, otherwise, be evicted, if they do not cooperate in the Housing N.Z. plan to shift them through consent or persuasion as they have successfully done so far with about half of the 156 tenants. This is a sophisticated, cunning use of language by Housing New Zealand officers, who present the project to tenants -The People – as a “fait accompli”. The development is going ahead, this reporter heard one Housing N.Z. officer tell a tenant while moments before telling her that she did not need to shift if she did not want to do so. This, of course, meant that if the development was going ahead, then, the officer expected the tenant to think that she must shift.

On the night of the 11th of October Hone Harawira, the Member of Parliament (Te Tai Tokerau; MANA) was arrested for putting his car unlawfully on a road (in front of a truck and trailer carrying a Glen Innes house), there were more than 30 police and an approximately equal number of protesters. Harawira’s defended hearing will be held in the Auckland District Court on 19 March. At his appearance in court on the 6th of December, two Justices of the Peace decided to postpone his hearing till March, in order to allow him time to find a translator for his use of Te Reo and to seek witnesses he may choose to call in his defence. The J.Ps entered a ‘Not Guilty” plea on Harawira’s behalf when they learnt that he (through a television journalist whom translated for him when she was in court to cover his case on that day ) did not “agree” with the charge.

Harawira had told this reporter on the night of his arrest that he believed children should be able to have the tenancy of the dead parents transferred to them; the solution was not to evict people but, rather, build more houses. Mana’s policy was to build 20,000 State homes in two years, he said.

On Christmas Eve, the neatly mown grass, clean grounds, and clean curtains in the windows at 72 Pilkington Road were testament to a well maintained home and grounds. A neighbour, 27 year old Rex Toia, a store-man, said he had known Janet Mai, her daughter (about his age), and Janet’s middle aged brother and sister since he was a boy; he had played together with the daughter, inside the home – and he thought it was wrong that they should have to leave because the mother died. But, back on the 24th of October, the Tenancy Tribunal had dismissed a rehearing of its order on the 1st of the same month which granted possession of the property to Housing N.Z. The May Mai Estate appealed on the same day against that decision to the District Court, an issue which is “ongoing”, said Winfield. Meanwhile, the Court had dismissed an application by the Estate for a “stay of proceedings” before an initial attempt at eviction had taken place on Wednesday the 12th of December. As there was a wrong name and street address on the notice, the eviction was delayed until it took place on the 14th of the same month. Winfield said she encouraged the adult children of May Mai to apply for state housing. Yet Janet Mai had been seeking for nearly two decades to be named as a tenant on the Tenancy agreement as she has been the primary organiser and carer in the household in which her mother was deteriorating in health due to her dementia. On Christmas Eve, she would probably have expected to be in her family home.

A notice naming the Estate of May Mai , which on the day of the eviction was attached to the door and threatened anyone with trespass who entered upon the property, was, on Christmas Eve, no longer on the door; it had been ripped off it.

A security alarm had be put in the house to detect movement of intruders.

The home and the lawns – where there had been forty five years of human life – lay deserted, in the Summer’s sun. The happy inhabitants had been evicted – in a cruel move -by the Government’s servants in its housing agency and its judicial system. A developed and civilised society, Aotearoa New Zealand is not.

Tony Allen is Editor of the THE PEOPLE AND INDEPENDENT FREE PRESS (Under Construction), an online newspaper of Investigative Journalism and Campaigning Journalism. Allen has worked as a journalist for the NZ Press Association, Radio Pacific, the South Waikato News, and the Taupo Times. He has, also, written extensively for the City Voice, Te Awa-iti, and the People’s Voice. His freelance articles have been published in the Dominion, the Christchurch Star, the New Zealand Herald, and the NZ Truth, Sunday News, the National Business Review and the NZ Listener, the NZ Outdoor, the Australian Outdoors, and Sportslife.