11 Jun 2024

Squatter living in derelict Wellington building likely 'not a unique issue' - city missioner

7:31 pm on 11 June 2024
Emergency services outside Pringle House in Wellington, June 2024.

Emergency services outside Pringle House in Wellington on Tuesday morning after a squatter was hurt after falling three storeys through a collapsed stairwell in the boarded-up building. Photo: Kate Green / RNZ

A person squatting in a dangerous central Wellington building is probably not a unique situation with thousands of people experiencing homelessness in the capital, the City Missioner says.

A man is in a critical condition at Wellington Hospital after falling three storeys through a collapsed stairwell on Monday night at boarded-up Pringle House on Wakefield Street.

He was not rescued until Tuesday morning.

Most people would not consider living in a derelict, risky building, Wellington City Missioner Murray Edridge said.

"You've got to presume that this was the best option that he had at the time," he said.

"It's getting colder, it's getting wetter, and people are looking for shelter. They're choosing buildings that clearly aren't safe to be occupied."

He understood the pressure that put on building owners and the council to ensure people could not access dangerous spaces, he said.

But that did not deal with the issue that some people had nowhere better to go.

"The very fact that we've got people seeking shelter in unsatisfactory premises is an indictment."

It was unclear how many people were living in derelict buildings across the city, Edridge said.

But there were between 150 and 200 people living on the streets, and that extended to "many thousands" of others who were "invisible in the system", he said.

"It's the people living in caravans, and sheds, and cars, and crowded into houses.

"There will also be a subset of people who are trying to find shelter and dry accommodation anywhere they can, so I suspect this is not a unique issue that we saw this morning."

The community as a whole had to take responsibility for that, he said, adding that Wellington in particular had a lack of quality, affordable homes.

"We need to say, 'do we want people living in this set of conditions?'

"Or are we prepared to say 'this doesn't happen in our city', and what are we prepared to do collectively to ... provide some appropriate level of accommodation for everyone who needs it."

Changes planned to deal with vacant buildings

Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau was working with Building and Construction Minister Chris Penk to explore whether councils should have "greater power to deal with buildings that pose a risk to public safety," she said.

Plans were already underway to encourage development of vacant buildings, she said.

That included a long term plan proposal to charge owners of vacant land and derelict buildings higher rates: $4.50 for every $1 that a residential property of the same value pays.

A long term plan engagement document showed there were about 60 properties that would be affected by the change.

"Where vacant land is concentrated and neglected, this influences perceptions and undermines the enjoyment of what the city offers," it said.

But Whanau said there were other changes that could help speed up development of derelict buildings.

"I've also met with the Minister of Building and Construction twice to discuss terms for the wide review of earthquake prone building regulations that he has announced.

"Many of the vacant buildings in Wellington are impacted by these regulations so getting those settings right is important," she said.

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