3 Sep 2014

Slum warning over Auckland CBD

1:12 pm on 3 September 2014

Auckland's central city is home to some of the region's poorest people, living in tiny overcrowded apartments which are threatening to turn some areas into slums.

Census data shows part of the inner city has a deprivation level of 10, which is the same as some of the poorest parts of south Auckland - such as Mangere, Papakura and Otara.

Auckland deprivation index

The Auckland deprivation index. Photo: RNZ

Sunaj Kumar is a 25-year-old post-graduate business student, and he shares a shoebox apartment in Auckland's CBD with three others.

The room is about 35 square metres, and each flatmate pays about $90 rent per week.

"We haven't done much to this place so we just have our mattresses, and whenever we get time, whoever goes to work goes to work, whoever wants to sleep's asleep," he said.

"This is the second bedroom - it's a little bigger than that one, so two people sleep here, two people sleep there."

Mr Kumar said sharing the tiny space was taxing.

"It really drives us crazy. Sometimes, not all the time, we have to mentally prepare ourselves to live here, in a very small place" he said.

"It is a little hectic, but we have to manage, we don't have any other choice."

The interior of Sunaj Kumar's Auckland apartment.

The interior of Sunaj Kumar's Auckland apartment. Photo: RNZ / Nicole Pryor

Mr Kumar said he was also working 20 hours a week at a petrol station and trying to keep costs down.

Auckland City Mission chief executive Diane Robertson said deprivation in the inner city was largely overlooked.

"Nobody ever imagines that the inner city has deprivation. But if you look at the deprivation maps, then we actually are sitting in a pocket of health, social, and economic deprivation."

Deprivation is measured by Statistics New Zealand using census data on factors including income, home-ownership, housing, and employment.

They use the data to give each area a score - 1 for the least-deprived, and 10 for the most-deprived.

Ms Robertson said low-income people living in the CBD were sharing rooms to make expensive inner-city living affordable.

She said some of the high-rise apartment blocks, though they were densely populated, had no sense of community.

"In this particular area there's not even a piece of green park - people come from across the road to sit on the sofas in our opshop as a place where they feel there is a community," she said.

Auckland city deprivation.

The outside of Sunaj Kumar's apartment. Photo: RNZ / Nicole Pryor

Unitec architecture school senior lecturer David Turner said inner-city apartments were necessary and could be done well.

But he said shoebox apartments built in Auckland about a decade ago were poorly designed.

"We've had a period where we've built very sub-standard apartments, because we haven't seen the need to regulate their form or their size, so we have built ourselves a lot of problems, which will take a great deal of undoing," he said.

Mr Turner said no other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development country had allowed such substandard apartments to be built in the same time period.

Auckland city deprivation

Senior lecturer at Unitec's architecture school David Turner says shoebox apartments built in Auckland about a decade ago were poorly-designed. Photo: RNZ / Nicole Pryor

"If you go to Kenya or Bangladesh or something, you'll find equivalent standards, but those aren't the standards we want our stuff to be compared to," he said.

"We don't see ourselves as being equivalent to the sort of standards acceptable in Sao Paulo."

Some of the apartment blocks were so undesirable buyers would not want them in the long-term, Mr Turner said.

When that started to happen, it could become an inner-city slum, he said.

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