I must have moved into my first state house sometime in 1988, when I was 20. The woman who ran the transitional housing where I lived had a friend at the Housing Corporation, as it was known then. It took a week for me to get that house in Waterview. One week! A couple of weeks later the bathroom was modified into a wet room, and in I went.
I’ve transferred twice, once to Avondale and then to my current house in Westmere, where I’ve lived since June 1995 – 23 years. I’ve always felt grateful and privileged that I was able to move houses when my circumstances required it.
However, in a quarter of a century, a lot has changed.
Today I know that disabled people who need “social” housing (I’ll come back to the quote marks shortly), wait years to get a house. Often this is because they live with their parents or in a group home and are assessed as not having the need for housing. So if you’re disabled, 12 and reading this, sign up now. Although you will no doubt be told you’re too young.
Similarly, if you need to move and request transfer, be prepared to wait – unless you want to move out of Auckland, in which case you might be paid to get out tomorrow.
By now you might be starting to realise why I wrote “social” housing. Because there really isn’t a lot about “social” housing that’s social – in fact I’d go as far to say it’s pretty anti-social.
The recent meth myth issue has been a stark example of anti-social housing and Housing NZ (HNZC) CEO Andrew McKenzie’s abject refusal to talk to media is nothing short of, well, anti-social. But let me tell you about my experience of two years of anti-social housing I endured, and the mean-spirited incompetence that underlay it.
In 2011 a guy moved in next door to me (I live in a duplex). He seemed a nice enough guy until, one rainy day when I was out and other people were using my house for a meeting, I got a call saying my new neighbour had started screaming at my visitors because one of them had thrown a cigarette butt into the hedge. He had then started yelling homophobic slurs, obviously thinking I was home. It turned out my neighbour had a traumatic brain injury and didn’t regularly take his medication.
Thus began several months of bullying and harassment from my neighbour, whom I eventually had to trespass. He was arrested for breaching his trespass, and I had to endure him banging on the walls, throwing water over the hedge and other anti-social activities. I ended up winning a Tenancy Tribunal case against Housing NZ for loss of quiet enjoyment.
Finally HNZC transferred my neighbour and two weeks later rented the house next door to a guy who was known to Police as aggressive and violent (I had by this time built up a close relationship with my Community Constable). In a meeting with him and the HNZC General Manager Tenancy Services (GMTS), I asked her if she would have expected this second neighbour next door to a single mother. “Never,” she exclaimed!” Can you see how my being a gay wheelchair user might make me similarly vulnerable, I asked? “No, you’re a man.” Thanks for clearing that one up.
In fact in written correspondence, the GMTS said, “…the Corporation operates a social allocation system… Under this system the Corporation assesses an applicant’s housing situation and all other relevant factors… The Corporation does not consult neighbours of new tenants to determine their suitability…”
Call me a pedant but I would have thought the situation of a neighbour might be considered a relevant factor.
After several months of agitating the second tenant was relocated, but not before HNZC told him I’d complained and he threw beer cans and called me a fucking faggot. Strangely HNZC could not give me information about him due to the Privacy Act, but it seemed the Act didn’t pertain to me.
Cut to the present and I’ve had a friendly male neighbour since 2013. I am on medication for anxiety and I’ve struggled with addiction. I attribute this to PTSD from spending two years feeling unsafe in my own home.
The recent furore over David Seymour’s letter to his constituents is, I believe, something we need to take notice of. As Housing Minister Phil Twyford says, we don’t want to fuel people’s worst prejudices about people with mental ill health. We do, however, need to ensure that all residents feel safe and know how and who can support their safety in the worst scenario.
I don’t know about other “social” housing providers, but from my first-hand experience and the revelations of the meth myth, I know that HNZC does not have the competence or commitment to provide anything else but anti-social housing.
Philip Patston is one of NZ’s top diversity consultants and Managing Director of diversitynz.com