Hutt Valley, 29 June – As reported on Tuesday (27 June) a woman, “S” – and her family, including her oldest son’s 6 month old baby – were facing the final week of their 90 day notice to vacate.
They had lived in their rental home for the last 14 years, keeping the property tidy; growing vegetables for the children; and even last year obtaining two hens to lay fresh eggs.
Her eldest son, “K”, moved down from Auckland with his part and new-born baby, to help his mother financially, and to help with her youngest son/”K’s” young brother.
When the notice to vacate was received by “S”, it was a shock – but not totally a surprise. The property owner had last year replaced the roof, and had let slip to “S” that he intended to renovate the interior. They were obviously planning to sell up.
“S” has spent the last three months looking for a new home. She has tried Trade Me; registered with WINZ/MSD for a Housing NZ home; approached the local marae, and asked around.
Many of the properties were too expensive. “S’s” low income restricted her choices. Other landlords were seeking “professional couples” or “professional families” – which she suspected was code for high-income earners, preferably pakeha.
This week was her final week. She had to be out on Friday. In desperation, she approached me and explained her situation.
Blogging on New Zealand’s housing crisis – whether homelessness for the poor or housing unaffordability for the Middle Classes – is one thing. I deal with statistics; news reports; policy statements; OIA information; Stats NZ data, etc.
But when “S” explained her dire circumstances to us late on Monday, as a cold wintry night-chill settled over the Hutt Valley, the housing crisis suddenly became very personal. It is one thing to read about it. But quite sobering when a human being is sitting in front of you, admitting how powerless they feel. And how frightened.
I do not understand how government ministers sleep well at night. Really, I don’t.
“S’s” predicament has kept me awake the last three nights. Our Crown ministers seem unaffected by it all. Their own beds are probably very warm and dry. And no threat of eviction in 90 days.
So I did what I do best; I wrote.
I wrote the blog-story, Message to Minister Adams: Family of five, including six month old baby – about to live in a van
I wrote to Social Housing minister, Amy Adams;
Hon. Amy Adams
Minister for Social Housing
Kia ora Ms Adams,
I am writing to you on behalf of my neighbour, Ms S[redacted name], who was given 90 days notice to vacate her rental home at [redacted address].
The 90 Day Notice will expire this Friday, 30 June.
Ms S[redacted name] is a solo-mother, with currently four people living with her; [redacted names and ages]
[redacted names and ages] have a 6 month baby.
Ms S[redacted name] has been trying to find accomodation for the last three months, without any success. Rental accomodation on TradeMe is either too expensive or, landlords are wanting “professional couples” or similar families. Landlords have also been demanding pay-slips to determine her income.
Ms S[redacted name] works 20 hours per week at two part-time jobs.
Ms S[redacted name] has tried emergency accomodation at Harcourt Holiday Park and Hawkes Inn Motel (both in Upper Hutt) – and both are full with rugby supporters.
The local marae, Orongomai Marae, has referred her to rentals in Strathmore, Churton Park, and Tawa – but with rents ranging between $580 and $680 per week, this is out of her ability to pay.
[redacted personal information]
Tonight, out of desperation, Ms S[redacted name] came to me to seek assistance.
Accordingly, I am putting her case to you, outlining the desperate circumstances she is now in.
If necessary, Ms S[redacted name]’s only recourse will be to use a van as accomodation for herself; her whanau, and a six month baby. They will park up outside the MSD offices in Main Street, Upper Hutt, using toilet facilities at nearby McDonalds, which is open 24/7.
They have no other alternatives. They have run out of options.
It is my understanding that there are empty state houses in Timberlea, Upper Hutt. It is unclear why they are empty, but they would be suitable for S[redacted name] and her whanau.
Ms S[redacted name] is going to do a “walk in” to Upper Hutt MSD tomorrow (Tuesday 27 June) to request that her application for a state house be moved from “C” to “A” category.
However, I do not believe even that will address this critical situation.
I am requesting that you give Ms S[redacted name]’s dire circumstances your utmost attention before they are forced out onto the street, with a six month baby to care for.
I am proving contact details for myself and Ms S[redacted name].
The following day, I received this response from a ministerial Private Secretary;
Dear Mr Macskasy
On behalf of Hon Alfred Ngaro, Associate Minister for Social Housing, thank you for your email regarding “S”. Your email was passed on by the office of Hon Amy Adams, Minister for Social Housing, as the matter you have raised falls within the portfolio responsibilities of the Associate Minister for Social Housing.
The Associate Minister was concerned to hear about this situation and asked me to pass your email on to the office of the Deputy Chief Executive at the Ministry of Social Development to look into and asked that they contact “S” directly.
As the concerns raised are operational in nature they are best addressed by the Ministry of Social Development directly. Visiting the local Work and Income service centre as noted below is the best option today.
[redacted name]I Private Secretary (Social Housing) I Office of Hon. Alfred Ngaro
I replied to the Private Secretary
Kia ora [redacted name],
“As the concerns raised are operational in nature they are best addressed by the Ministry of Social Development directly. Visiting the local Work and Income service centre as noted below is the best option today.”
You must have missed the bit where I wrote; “S[redacted name] is going to do a “walk in” to Upper Hutt MSD tomorrow (Tuesday 27 June) to request that her application for a state house be moved from “C” to “A” category.”
In plain words, “S” has ALREADY APPROACHED WINZ/MSD IN UPPER HUTT.
In three days time “S” will not have a roof over her head.
She intends to borrow a van and along with a six month baby will be camped outside WINZ/MSD in Main Street Upper Hutt. At that point, in case you haven’t realised it, this will become a media story with the headline “Raising six month baby in a van in Main Street, New Zealand”.
You have “S” phone number. Thus far no one has contacted her.I strongly suggest that to avert the media attention that will erupt on this issue, that Ms Adams or Mr Ngaro give this matter the most urgent attention.
If my words to the Private Secretary were ‘harsh’, it was because the time for nice, polite ‘chit-chat’ was over. It is hard to be nice and polite when a family is facing living on the streets.
Since that email to the Private Secretary, neither “S” nor I have received any communication whatsoever from Minister Adams, Minister Ngaro, or Private Secretary, or any other government official. Not a phone; not an email; not a txt-message; nothing.
It is as if these people have ceased to exist in our world.
Word of “S’s” crisis spread quickly. We are indebted to Martyn Bradbury and to many Facebook friends who shared “S’s” story and spread the word.
Labour MP, Chris Hipkins and his office became involved.
Staff at Upper Hutt MSD/WINZ read the original blogpost the next day after it appeared on The Daily Blog (Tuesday). They were apparently horrified. According to “S”, the Housing Director at Upper Hutt MSD/WINZ claims she had no idea of “S’s” impending homelessness. I am informed that she read about it on The Daily Blog.
Greg from a local NGO – Family Works – became a support person for “S” and attended meetings alongside her at MSD/WINZ. Greg advocated on behalf of “S”.
The Orongomai Marae stepped up it’s search for an appropriate home.
Then, today (Thursday), a break-through. At 1.48pm, I recieved a txt-message from “S”;
” I GOT A HOME FRANK IN EBDENTOWN YAAAAAAAAY!!!!!!!
(Ebdentown is a suburb just north of Upper Hutt shopping centre.)
“S” was elated.
And note what she wrote. She did not say she “got a house”. She wrote she “got a home“.
That is what New Zealanders want for their families; a home. Something more than just a ‘house’.
I sincerely hope Minister Adam and Minister Ngaro read this. “S” will have a home for herself and her family – and it was not because of a single damned thing our well-paid and well-housed Ministers did.
They did nothing. Oh wait, no, they did do something. They collected their salaries.
Over a mug her favourite strawberry & lime herbal tea, “S” later explained how matters had developed quickly over the last twentyfour hours.
Orongomai Marae, in conjunction with ‘Buzz’ Properties, had found a three bedroomed house. A Marae official contacted “S”, and she quickly went to view the property. “S” later spoke to a Property Manager from ‘Buzz’ who – looking at her payslips – was shocked to learn how little “S’s” income was from her two part-time jobs.
“S” tells me that the Property Manager was incredulous;
“How have you been managing to live?”
Frugally, is the answer – frugally.
“S” managed to get a good verbal reference from her current landlord and her employer (based in a head office in Auckland) phoned the Property Manager and gave a glowing character recommendation for “S”.
Upper Hutt MSD/WINZ ‘came to the party’. They were as supportive of “S” as they could be in the circumstances, and agreed to fund an extension to the Notice to Vacate her current home. The extension will be to next Tuesday (4 July), giving “S” breathing-space to finalise packing and moving.
A major crisis in “S’s” life has been averted by a matter of days by people in the community working together.
Not because of anything two ministers have done.
This has ended well for “S” and her family. They will have a warm home to live in – which should be a right for every New Zealander. The minority – those hard-nosed people who believe that warm, safe, secure-tenured housing is not a right, but something to be achieved if you have the money to meet market demands – would have us live in a concrete-jungle. The law of tooth and claw is one we should have left behind thousands of years ago.
Right now, there are many other people like “S” and her family in this country.
The most sobering thought I have is that – going by the total inaction of two government ministers over the last three days – how many more homeless will there be, without help, out in the cold or in over-crowded rooms in small houses?
Where are the invisible sleeping tonight?
Ministers Adama and Ngaro – is this really the the best you can do? What is the point of your ministerial roles? Because I haven’t seen anything to justify your positions. Not a single damned thing.
“S” and her family of four had been offered accommodation by a well-meaning, loving friend who offered to share her small, one bed-roomed flat with them.
Her friend already has three people living in that flat; two in the bedroom, one on a couch in the lounge.
Had “S” taken up the offer, eight people would have been crammed into a one-bedroomed flat, including a six month old baby. The conditions for infectious disease being passed around would have been disastrous.
Even the small, cramped one bedroom apartments in Soviet Russia were never as over-crowded as this.
Congratulations, New Zealanders: our living standards are falling below that of the former USSR.
But here’s my question to my fellow New Zealanders:
“ Is this the best we can do for our country? Is this where we’ve arrived in the second decade of the 21st Century? Is this the ‘Brighter Future’ you voted for in 2008, 2011, and 2014? Really?! Well, congratulations my fellow once-proud, once-egalitarian, Kiwis – you’ve got it. How does it taste in your mouths?“
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