Dr Liz Gordon: Spring


At the justice summit, I passed two Māori participants discussing daffodils and clouds, and stopped dead.  “Are you quoting Wordsworth?” I asked.  “Yes, indeed”, they replied.  And why not? While ole Willie may have been lonely as a cloud on the Yorkshire moors, there is no better place for daffodils than Aotearoa in the spring.

With the daffs and blossoms out, and the magnolia unfurling, Christchurch is looking beautiful.  It has ever been so, even in the central city after the earthquakes razed it to the ground. All of New Zealand’s cities are beautiful in their different ways, but none more so than our garden city.

Christchurch is not a wealthy city, even though there are many wealthy people and suburbs.  While Fendalton and the hills are well known for their riches, vast areas of the city consist of people on low incomes and living in poverty.

My sister, with her English perspective on things, was astounded to find that our most deprived areas are quite pretty, with stand-alone housing, big gardens and well cared-for streets.  “Is this poverty?”, she asked, “it looks very different from the ghettos of London”.

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Which is true, except that even the poorest hovels in London have low-cost central heating and high rent subsidies.  We have thinly insulated old buildings and often no heating options, with open fires and most log burners now banned.

One story has been prominent in the news recently. A cold pensioner living in an uninsulated 1970s Council flat decided to insulate it herself, after being told by the Trust that runs the housing that it could not be done.

The Trust decided to inspect the property, and the tenant was told she might have to sign an agreement to restore the unit to its (uninsulated) state when she vacates it.

The saga got more interesting when a team of six from the Trust arrived at her door to assess the property, but then decided they would first need to test for asbestos before carrying out the inspection.

According to the Press, “A man wearing an oxygen mask and jumpsuit tested the property before results eventually came back negative”.  The article noted that the tenant was allowed to continue living in her unit despite the ‘risk’. No asbestos was found.

The Trust team eventually arrived back a month later to do the insulation inspection.  It took five minutes.

The Council then reported to the Press that several problems had been found with the insulation, even though they had not bothered to inform the tenant before speaking to the media.  Apparently the main problem was that there had been previous insulation in the roof (not known by the Trust), and the new insulation had been put over the top.

The tenant reported she was “absolutely exhausted.  I’m just about buckling at the knees”. This is hardly surprising.  What she has suffered is a huge abuse of power, when the people who provide her with housing turn against her, play games with her, treat her like muck and then threaten her with financial consequences.

It is like the Council has got into a huge fight with one 67 year old tenant that it feels it must win, carried out in the public eye and with terrible potential outcomes.  Do they not understand that there are huge power relationships at play here? It is not a level playing field!

More was revealed in an interview with the Council’s head of facilities.  He noted that the property could be insulated – the previous view was a ‘stuff-up”.  But:

“Our work in social housing is actually only funded from what the tenants pay, so we’ll essentially go through and get as many tenants as possible right, then come back and do the harder ones”.

So a nice little bit of victim-blaming on top of the other abuses.  If only those naughty tenants would pay up more, then they could all be warm and dry.  A couple of days later there was a further story about Council flats, where a couple won a tenancy tribunal case that their rental was far too high.  The one-bedroom flat was small and uninsulated (go figure) and full rental should have been around $250 per week, not $430.

The couple were concerned that others were also being charged too much rent.

The Council has outsourced the management of its large social housing programme to the Otautahi Community Housing Trust, which potentially puts much of the Trust’s actions beyond the reach of judicial review under the Local Government Act.

These cases over the Christchurch winter show that the actions of the Trust need careful scrutiny to prevent any abuses of power.  We will be watching! But for now, the lovely blossoms of spring are around us, and, as Willie would put it:

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.


Dr Liz Gordon began her working life as a university lecturer at Massey and the Canterbury universities. She spent six years as an Alliance MP, before starting her own research company, Pukeko Research.  Her work is in the fields of justice, law, education and sociology (poverty and inequality). She is the president of Pillars, a charity that works for the children of prisoners, a prison volunteer, and is on the board of several other organisations. Her mission is to see New Zealand freed from the shackles of neo-liberalism before she dies (hopefully well before!).


    • Haha yes blatant remix but repackaged rather well, don’t you think? Pertinent, and the Press does not (of course) talk about abuses of power. By the way, jaded is not me. Enthusiasm is my thing. I think you quite often comment on my columns, and have little to say that is kind. Is that a personal thingie or a political one, or is it just what you do?

      • Sorry Liz, it’s a horrible, instinct driven process that is only partly rational. But I put faith in the great mystery that perhaps my evil ways will somehow spur you to greater works. What would I know. Everyone has become pathologically neurotic now why should I be any different. I think you have some high expectations, this is the internet. Anyway hope u have a great day, Lolbagz out

  1. ” The sun is shinning, the grass has ris. I wonder where them birdies is? Them birdies! They’s on the wing!
    No, wait? That’s absurd. The wing is on the birdie!”

    And not one fuck word. x

  2. The issue is councils being liable to insulate those properties they are able to.

    It claimed these could not be insulated, when they can.

    Thus they are exposed to central government scrutiny and legal consequence.

  3. BTW?

    “All of New Zealand’s cities are beautiful in their different ways, but none more so than our garden city.”

    You’ve been into the Gin again, right?

  4. How does the Trust benefit from its ‘work’? What you describe Liz, sounds horrible for the people it should be supporting.

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