13 Oct 2015

State house protest: 'They are leaving us with nothing'

7:23 pm on 13 October 2015

Representatives of state tenants from all over the country have protested in Wellington, calling on the government to rethink its plan to sell off state houses.

Housing protester outside the Beehive.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Nearly 60 people marched through the rainy streets of the capital to deliver a message to Parliament that any sale of state houses would hurt the public.

The State Housing Action Network organised the meeting and march, which was led by groups from Invercargill and Tauranga - the first two places where the government policy kicked in.

About 1100 state houses in Tauranga and another 370 in Invercargill are being sold to community housing providers.

The Invercargill representative at the demonstration, Jill Purvis, said the government's role was to look after its vulnerable citizens.

She said it was not the role of charities or private enterprise. "I don't believe there's a charity in New Zealand that would have the funds to be able to support it and a private, I think they would be more about profit than people."

She said the social welfare system was failing and the people she represented were afraid of speaking out.

Protesters at the end of Lambton Quay.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

A march leader, Yvonne Dainty, said today's action was a stand against the privatisation of state housing. "We have the right to state assets and they are giving them to the one percenters and the developers.

"They are just leaving us with nothing."

New Zealand First Tauranga-based list MP, Clayton Mitchell, said his electorate was one of the fastest growing areas in the country.

He said it had a high proportion of people needing support.

"It's in my opinion just a way they can balance their book and it's not in the best interest of Tauranga residents, but also not in the best interest of any New Zealander and what New Zealand I think stands for, which is a strong democratic country looking after the people that need to be looked after most."

He said state housing had been run down by successive governments in recent decades.

Housing protester outside the Beehive.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

But the minister responsible for Housing New Zealand, Bill English, said the sale of houses to charities and private providers was about getting the best possible outcome for state tenants.

"For a long time our tenants were either ignored or assumptions were made about what they wanted and how they wanted to live.

"We found older people for instance who don't want to have to stay in the three bedroom house with the big lawn where they raised their family when their spouse has died."

Mr English said today's protest would not change the government's social housing process, but it had taken note.

He believed charities and the private sector could do a better job for state tenants than the state itself.

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