In the depths of winter, some 50 protesters formed a human chain around a block of land in Trentham, Upper Hutt, which Housing New Zealand wants to sell.
The St Joseph’s (Upper Hutt) Justice, Peace and Development group organised the peaceful protest on July 10.
The group had led a petition asking the Minister responsible for Housing New Zealand, Bill English, to stop the sale of the land and allow discussion on its use.
St Joseph’s parishioner and coordinator of the protest Judy Dixon told NZ Catholic that HNZ knocked down 54 houses on the Trentham block and are currently selling another 10.
“They say no one wants to live in Upper Hutt. Yet there is a housing boom here and any house going on the market sells within a week of advertising,” said Mrs Dixon.
“We have people living in their cars parked on tent sites at the local motor camp. This costs them a $600 bond plus $240 a week to use the camp facilities,” she added.
She said the church group knows three families who are in the motor camp because they were evicted from their homes for being unable to pay rent.
Another family evicted for the same reason were unable to move to the camp because it was already full.
“We have supported homeless people, or people likely to be evicted because they can’t pay increased rents who have been advised by WINZ to stay with relatives or find something cheaper as there are no HNZ homes available in Upper Hutt,” she said.
Wellington vicar-general Msgr Gerard Burns spoke to the protesters, calling the sale of state land that could be used for more housing foolish and reckless, particularly at a time when there is a housing crisis.
“The evidence is there, not just in the sight of people sleeping in doorways or under bridges in the city, but in the people in overcrowded housing, living in garages and in cars and vans. We are talking about the growing poverty in our land, about the lack of a living wage for
many and the effects on children’s and family health because of inadequate shelter,” he said.
Rimutaka MP Chris Hipkins echoed the sentiment, adding that he will advocate for the building of affordable homes on the Trentham land.
He also criticised HNZ for being tight lipped on the issue.
“Getting information out of Housing New Zealand has been a nightmare. The level of secrecy around what they are demolishing and selling isn’t justified. These are publicly owned assets and they should be publicly accountable,” he said.
“This land should be used for quality affordable rental housing. If it gets sold to a developer they will build expensive houses to maximise their profits. That’s just not right,” Mr Hipkins added.
In a letter to residents last May, Housing NZ stakeholder relationship manager central Renee Martin said it will sell the land because the demand for housing is low.
“The sale of the land will create opportunities for other types of housing. This could include affordable housing for first-home buyers.
“Any funds from the sales will be reinvested to build new housing where there is demand for it,” she stated in the letter.