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(en) awsm.nz: The ‘Deserving’ Poor

Date Tue, 26 Jan 2016 13:18:18 +0200

The Kapiti Coast is located approximately 40 kilometres north of Wellington. Like most places it has its fair share of problems. One of the biggest is the lack of low income and emergency housing. While articles in the Kapiti Observer lament the number of elderly people and single parents with children who are homeless the unfortunate reality is that laws like the Resource Management Act have been used to thwart any housing development that might advantage the poor. ---- The Resource Management Act was passed in 1993 with the lofty aim of curbing environmentally destructive projects, unregulated urban development and the unbridled exploitation of natural resources. While that sounded great the reality has been very different. In a situation that has been mirrored in California and elsewhere, resource management laws have mostly been used to prevent projects that might benefit low income earners, such as low cost housing.

In 2014 a proposal was put forward by a developer to build nine three-story buildings containing 49 two-bedroom apartments intended for low income earners in Awatea Ave in Paraparaumu. It was opposed as a “ghetto” in the making. It was claimed the housing would attract the wrong sort of people, the building development would impact negatively on property values and would not fit in with the other mostly single storey properties on the street. There were also concerns raised about traffic noise and disruption to the lives of the locals. (stuff.co.nz – 20th November 2014)

If this wasn’t bad enough there is an attitude among some local councillors that people are homeless through their own fault because of bad personal decisions: Cr Michael Scott being among the most dismissive of the homeless on the Kapiti Coast (Kapiti Independent News, December 14, 2015). It does not seem to occur to such councillors that people may be forced to leave their homes due to losing their jobs, fleeing violent relationships or landlords selling the homes they live in.

Blame for such situations rarely lies with a single person or organisation. Faceless multinational companies or indifferent and out of touch local and central government politicians must be held responsible to a large extent. However another uncomfortable reality is some blame for the lack of emergency and low cost housing lies with local residents. Ask these residents and they are sure to say that they don’t hate the elderly or low income people. They just don’t want them in their neighbourhood, the Not In My Backyard-Syndrome. The NIMBY attitude is that the poor should be in places like Cannons Creek in Porirua, not Paraparaumu or other middle class neighbourhoods. It’s a sentiment that is (if being generous) based on ignorance of the fact that most of the state housing in Cannons Creek has either been sold to slumlords, social agencies or demolished.

Social housing – the new buzzword for what was once called state housing – has mostly gone to church-based, tribal-based or disability groups. If you don’t live a lifestyle compatible with a church group, belong to the right tribe or have a disability covered by the social agency that owns the social housing you will be homeless. This is the reality of social housing.

Increasingly, emergency or low income housing is no longer available for those who need it unless the person can prove they are more disadvantaged, thus ‘more deserving’, than other people who need such housing. That’s assuming there’s anywhere for these people to live in the first place.

Many can see there is a critical shortage of emergency and low income housing and that overcrowding and homelessness are now becoming serious problems nationwide. Nevertheless, it seems that only those who fit certain narrow criteria can expect to get it. Where they live will largely be dependent on whether they are pakeha, English speaking or otherwise at least polite and ‘respectable’ enough not to impact upon property values. Housing is a basic human need and the present situation in places like the Kapiti Coast shows that this need isn’t being met due to a combination of government laws, private business interests, reactionary attitudes and class-based hostility.

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