Opinion by Tony Allen
“Destroy that community garden! It’s an affront to our dignity!.” One could surmise that these were the words from Housing New Zealand to Andrews Housemovers Limited, whose worker ripped down the fence at 16 Taniwha Street, Glenn Innes, on Tuesday morning in preparation for destroying a community garden planted by State tenants who last July had unsuccessfully opposed the removal, under police guard, of another State house from this same property by the same company in this poor working class district of Auckland.
Graham Lamont, who turned 63 yesterday, had been planting dwarf beans in the garden, at 8 o’clock on Tuesday, when a worker from Andrews House Movers told him that a tractor would be brought by staff to the property to level it that day or on Wednesday. The worker took away both the fence and a sign on it – painted by Lamont – which declared , ‘THE DEVELOPERS ARE GREEDY. WE ARE FEEDING THE NEEDY’.
No staff with a tractor from Andrews House Movers arrived at the property on Tuesday, and, so, Lamont, who expected them to be there yesterday was going back to the community garden at 16 Taniwha Street to plant beans and erect bamboo poles. Lamont – who lived in a nearby home he owns but which was originally a State home rented to his father, Rob, who, as a veteran of World War Two was supplied by the Government with the house in Glen Innes, as were many veterans – had been planting seeds at the garden, with other housing tenants and supporters on each Saturday of the past two weekends.
The removal of the house in Taniwha Street was part of Housing N.Z’s Northern Glen Innes Re-development project which aimed to create 260 homes on the land from which 156 homes, including but separate from their inhabitants, were being shifted to other parts of Glen Innes and elsewhere. At least 65 tenants – possibly, round half or more of the 156 tenants – have already agreed to leave their homes. A minority of tenants will refuse to shift and seem prepared to stand against any possible Tenancy Tribunal evictions, court orders, police, or security guards.
On 23 July, the then Housing N.Z. manager in charge of the re-development, Graham Bodman, told this reporter that tenants from the homes which have been removed can apply for the new ones – but by then they will have probably been accommodated elsewhere and, also, needed to compete with other applicants waiting for housing.
Housing N.Z. plans for only 78 of the new homes to be in its ownership, while 39 will “possibly” (it states) be offered for ownership or management to one or more community groups (such as the Salvation Army) and 143 will be sold to private owners. Housing N.Z. believed, according to its literature, that its 1500 State homes in Glen Innes was “too much” and so it will use the redevelopment project to reduce State housing from 57% of the total amount of housing in the Tamaki area (which includes Glen Innes) down to 53%.
The reason for reducing State housing in Glen Innes (which had its genesis in 2008, during the time of the Labour led government and has been continued by today’s National-led one) states Housing N.Z.’ s web-site, was 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” and “redevelopment is good for the area,” it contends. The project, according to Housing N.Z., fits its own “assets strategy”, and, also, the Auckland Council (Draft) Plan’s recognition of the need for State housing (which will be increased across the Auckland region by 1400 homes during four years, said a Housing N.Z. Newsletter, in February, last year.) A notion that a safer community may be created when more privately owned homes are built concurs with Housing Minister Phil Heatley’s view that too many State homes in one area leads to crime; presumably, this is because tenants in State homes are on low incomes and are, therefore, presumed to commit more crime than tenants or owners of private homes (whom,presumably, are on modest or higher incomes, and do not feel the need to commit crimes to acquire the goods they want because, instead, they have sufficient money to buy them.) But, debate about whether State tenants commit more crimes than private tenants or private home owners is irrelevant to development of the properties as part of urban renewal in what the tenants have called a “LAND-GRAB! for speculators and an “ETHNIC CLEANSING!” of people of Maaori and Pacific island ancestry- the use of the latter term being due to the high number of Maaori and Pacific Island tenants being forced to leave compared with Caucasian ones. As much of Glen Innes now looks like a war zone (due to vacant properties from which homes have been removed being covered in the remnant rubble), Housing N.Z. and its contractors have been accused by the T.H.A.G. of carrying out a “scorched earth” policy – a war-time term for conquering armies’ destruction of the places and homes where people have lived.
Last 14th of December, 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.
None of the deceptively lofty language about urban renewal and growing the economy has disguised the fact that the number of State homes in the Northern Glen Innes Redevelopment project is being HALVED from 156 homes down, instead, to 78 homes; nor do the words disguise the fact that only the new 78 Housing N.Z. homes will be offered to tenants at INCOME RELATED RENTS (that is set at a quarter of very low incomes but, nonetheless, rising on a scale up to full market rents if incomes are high enough to pay the market rents). The rents to be charged for the 39 homes owned or managed by a community group is intended by Housing N.Z. to be at below market rents (but how this will be achieved is yet to be determined; whether it will require the Government to pay the community group a subsidy of the rent to be paid by the tenant is not publicly known.) The 143 new homes for sale by – presumably – the developers and not Housing N.Z. – are intended by Housing N.Z. to be owned by private buyers or let at market rates to tenants.
Housing activists in groups such as the Tamaki Housing Action Group believe continued State ownership of existing State housing in Glen Innes is the best likelihood of rents being charged low enough for people on low incomes to be able to afford to pay them.
Throughout Tuesday, several supporters of the T.H.A.G and ‘Quality Housing For All Group’, the latter of which occupied the home at 16 Taniwha Street in an overnight sit-in on the nights of 15 and 16 July, were mounting a vigil while awaiting the arrival of the tractor which would destroy their newly created garden. The day after the overnight occupation – that is, on the 17th – two people – an activist, Nicholas Merrington and this reporter, were arrested after refusing to leave the inside of the house. Merrington and I were handcuffed and taken to the Glenn Innes Police Station, where we were warned not to return to the property within two years or we would be prosecuted in court for trespass.
The community garden – still living on the 9th – consisted of four plots which contained climbing beans, pumpkins, watermelons,celery, parsley,beetroot, herbs, tomatoes dwarf beans, thyme, and rosemary.
Aroha Robson, whose house is not deemed for removal and who lives across the road from 16 Taniwha Street, was there on Tuesday and returned yesterday. On 29 December, at the first planting of the garden, she told this reporter that Lee Hill (who had lived for about 60 years in the house in her home on the section) died aged 85 last March, after receiving a letter (dated 26 September, 2011) from Housing N.Z. which informed her that she would need to move to another State home. Although, Mrs Hill apparently had a respiratory illness, Aroha Robson believed that the letter from Housing N.Z. informing her that she must move caused Lee Hill so much stress that it precipitated her death.
Robson said Lee Hill was fit and, though in her eighties, would walk down the slope of her property to clear away the excess vegetation or flowers for Robson’s family. Each year, around the end of November and early December, Lee Hill would – said Robson – pick plums off a tree on her property and make them in to jam which would then be shared with Robson and her family about four weeks later. This demonstrated that Lee Hill was a woman whom liked to share what she had and was, also, a fit ‘ Super-Gran’. But, according to Robson – “From the moment she got her letter to say that she had to vacate, she got sick.” “She was under a lot of stress. She didn’t want to leave her home. I think that kind of helped with her (death). She was a super fit woman until that time and then she went down hill.”
Robson counted the seven times between September and March that Lee Hill was taken by ambulance to hospital until, finally, one sad day, she did not return – for she had died. In effect, Housing N.Z. had killed Lee Hill, she believed. Robson believed Housing N.Z. and the developers want the land at 16 Taniwha Street because it is worth a lot of money, as it had a view of Wai O Taiki Bay. On a sunny day, the sea water in the bay glistens and all of the green grass on the large section – without its home and without Lee Hill – is bright beneath the large, clear, blue sky. One could could easily think that all was well in the World.
But, it is not. Hungry speculators have their designs on the properties overlooking Wai O Taiki Bay, the tenants believe. Yvonne Dainty, a spokesperson of the Tamaki Housing Action Group, has often publicly stated that the house removals and ‘evictions’ are “all in the ‘Name of Greed’. She and others point to the wealthy companies involved in the development project to illustrate that point. Dainty and other activists use the word ‘evictions’ even though Housing N.Z. has not told tenants they were being evicted. But, in a general meaning of the word, that is, of course, what has happened; they have been evicted. The words which Housing N.Z. uses in its newsletters and letters to tenants to describe the evictions (without, of course, daring to use the actual word, itself) are that tenants must ‘move’, ‘relocate’ and be ‘transferred’. Housing N.Z. has not – yet – applied to the Tenancy Tribunal and the District Court to forcibly – with bailiffs – evict tenants from their homes. Tenants have relented to Housing N.Z.’s invitation to them or persuasion of them to leave homes – although , on the 14th of December, 48 year old Janet Mai, who had a full-time job and an income to pay rent, was evicted by bailiffs and six police because she was not the tenant but, instead, the daughter of a tenant – her mother, May Mai, who had died on the 9th of June, six months earlier. Housing N.Z.’s policy was not to allow children of tenants to automatically ‘inherit’ the tenancy. The tenancy (that is, the home), at 72 Pilkington Road, where Mai had lived 45 years since moving in as a three year old in 1967 was not offered to Mai – nor her brother, sister, or daughter, all of whom were adults. Her friend, Marion Peka, a member of the Tamaki Housing Action group,feared that this eviction of Mai’s whanau – although it was in Panmure – was the start of evictions which may take place in Glen Innes, insofar as this eviction showed that Housing N.Z. was prepared to use State force to make a tenant leave a home. Whether or not Housing N.Z. plans to re-let Mai’s former home (or remodel or demolish it) is unknown.
One has to ask, “What kind of State agency which is supposed to serve the people would evict a daughter of a mother because she had died? Were we not building a Society in which we cared about one-another?”
What kind of society would destroy a community garden?
‘What ARE we doing? Unfortunately, one possible answer seems to be one which states:- “Let the Poor Get Poorer And Let The Rich Get Richer.” And, naturally, there is not a common “WE’ – for this society is divided by class and wealth.
The message from the Government to the tenants of Glen Innes whom do not want to leave their homes seems to be “We Don’t Care And You Don’t Matter”. But these tenants and their supporters, whom have suffered dozens of arrests and several prosecutions in the Auckland District Court, is “STAND UP! FIGHT BACK for – in Robson’s words, “Te Tangata! Te Tangata!*”
Robson said that the community garden – destined for destruction, today, by a contractor on the orders of Housing N.Z. was to be harvested to feed state tenants, as a memorial to an 85 year old woman, Lee Hill – Lee Hill, who lived, here, at 16 Taniwha Street for about 60 years; who made jam and picked flowers; and, who looked lovingly out over her Wai O Taiki Bay – but who died in hospital, after being told in a letter from Housing New Zealand, “…you will need to move to another State house…” for the developers are coming.
* “That is how The company writes its name
*”THE PEOPLE! THE PEOPLE!’
More radical and militant writing, campaigning journalism and investigative journalism will be published by Tony Allen on the new professional on-line newspaper called THE PEOPLE AND INDEPENDENT FREE PRESS to be launched early this year.’ Tony Allen was employed as a reporter for the New Zealand Press Association, Radio Pacific, the South Waikato News, and, also, the Taupo Times. He was a reporter for City Voice and the People’s Voice. Allen has published freelance articles in the NZ Herald, the Dominion, the Christchurch Star (when it was a daily), N.Z. Truth, the Sunday News, the National Business Review, the N.Z. Listener, the N.Z. Outdoor, the Australian Outdoors & Fishing,and Sportslife.