Housing New Zealand under fire for 'rotten' state houses in Whangārei

7:09 pm on 30 April 2019

Housing New Zealand's been accused of leaving older state houses to rot in Whangārei - while it plans to build new ones.

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Housing New Zealand plans to build 37 new homes in the Whangārei suburb of Maunu. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Hapū at a hui yesterday on a social housing project called for urgent repairs to existing homes.

Housing New Zealand wants to build 37 new homes in the suburb of Maunu - a plan that's caused about 20 neighbours to sell up and move out.

Elders from manawhenua, Te Uriroiroi and Te Parawhau, supported the project but gave housing staff an earful about its old state houses in Whangārei.

"Get in there and put some money in these houses, get them warm and healthy now," one person said.

He dared Housing New Zealand staff to walk down the hallway of one particular house saying "jump across the holes in the floor, the only thing that will hold you up is the carpet, the floor's rotten".

Others complained of loose and dangerous steps, collapsed laundry tubs and Housing New Zealand repair contractors who did patch-up jobs or failed to show up.

There was some advice on that score.

"You cut that contractor, you ring them up and say you're not getting any more now, you're cut off ... you're breaching the contract that you have been employed to do ... that's how you change it."

Te Parawhau elder Benjamin Pitman defended the Housing New Zealand staff however, saying they were "the meat in the social housing sandwich".

"I honestly feel great aroha for them; they are having to deal with all sorts of problems that are not of their making; they've been cast as the devil by some and they're getting it from all sides. I think they're doing the best they can," Dr Pitman said.

Housing New Zealand said some homes could not be fixed while they were occupied and that's one reason the city urgently needed new social housing.

But it's restricted by district plans in the north, as to where it can build them.

"In Auckland we can take down one and put in three, but we don't have that facility here, so we need to build new ones so we can actually get people out of those properties, because some of them can't be done up when people are still living in them," a Housing New Zealand spokesperson said.

It's applied for resource consent for the Puriri Road project, and asked for public notification.

The hapū say Housing New Zealand's Puriri Park plan, for 37 new homes, involves a block of Crown land that should have been set aside for Treaty settlements.

But they will support the project - as long as they are involved, as manawhenua.

"This is Te Parawhau, Te Uri Roiroi whenua," one elder said. "It should have been offered back by the Crown."

"So our people must be involved from the time the first spade goes in - it should have our blessing. We are the kaitiaki and we should have a say in how it's designed; the tikanga; what sort of people are going in there and how everyone will be looked after."

One kuia suggested the complex should have a caretaker's cottage.

"We should be asking 'how do we deal with the negativity, and how do we help those people who feel so negative ... who feel their wairua is unsafe?'," she said.

Housing New Zealand's Ian Butler said staff were open to those conversations.

"Some tikanga values are already incorporated in our designs, like the placement of kitchens and toilets, " he said.

"But for instance we have planned a community building for the project that people can use for Plunket clinics, or meetings and Zumba classes, that sort of thing, and we welcome your ideas on how that should look," Mr Butler said.

The plan has caused consternation in the high-value neighbourhood.

Te Uriroiroi elder Hona Edwards, who lives on Puriri Park Road himself, said many residents had sold up - fearing a drop in property values.

"There was about at least five homes on the market and sold within a week of that for sale sign going up, over the last few months there's probably been nearly 20 properties sold on that road."

Mr Edwards said right now Housing New Zealand is planning to plonk a community in a community that does not want it.

But he said that would change in time and younger families, who didn't seem bothered by social housing, were now buying into the street.

Social housing scheme will have no right of appeal if approved

The Whangārei council is warning that people who object to a controversial social housing scheme will have no right of appeal if it's approved.

Housing New Zealand applied for resource consents for the Puriri Park plan just before Easter.

It's asked for public notification, and spokesman Ian Butler, said it's important that those who supported it, as well as those who opposed it, made submissions.

"We know full well about what some members of the local community feel about the housing, but we heard today that there's a lot of people who really value this opportunity and want to see more housing made available for people in need."

Council chief executive Rob Forlong said the resource consent will be publicly notified as soon as possible, at Housing New Zealand's request, and heard by independent commissioners.

But he said people making submissions need to be aware they will not be able to challenge the consents in the Environment Court if they are granted.

Mr Forlong said that's because of law changes made by the previous government in response to the housing crisis.

Details of the social housing plan will be posted on the council's website, he said.

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