The moving experience of homeless people

Priyanca Radhakrishnan – This newspaper needs-Priyanca Radhakrishnan

About a year ago, my family and I moved from Carterton, Wairarapa, to Auckland and joined over a third of New Zealand’s population to live in the City of Sails.

It has been an excellent opportunity. However, as we all know, there is a housing crisis here in Auckland.

Housing construction has not kept up with demand and because of a number of factors, it is an absolute struggle to find a decent place to rent or to purchase.

Housing is the single most common issue that constituents raise with their Members of Parliament in their Electorate and Out-of-Parliament offices.

Appalling conditions

Multiple families live together in single houses – sometimes with a whole family living in the garage – just to be able to afford the rent.

In 2014, two-year-old Emma-Lita Bourne died after experiencing symptoms that were, according to the Coroner, “worsened by the condition of the state house in which she and family were living.”

There are more than 2000 people on the waiting list for urgent state housing in Auckland alone.

Homelessness doubled last year.

Contrary to what some believe, it is not generally a lifestyle choice. Without the necessary documentation and a fixed address, government assistance isn’t a possibility.

Mounting pressure

Auckland experienced a net population increase of 40,000 last year. With increased migration into Auckland, natural increases (births) and the lowest number of people leaving New Zealand’s shores for Australia since 1991, housing pressures have increased.

Sustainable migration needs to be a win-win situation – for migrants and for the nation. I strongly believe that migration has largly been beneficial to New Zealand society and economy and that New Zealand has a lot to offer migrants.

However, we must be able to provide migrants with jobs and homes if we want to continue to attract them. And if we want them to live outside Auckland to alleviate the pressures that is already strangulating the City, we need to also invest in other areas, especially provincial New Zealand.

Some anomalies

I am all for a more even population distribution across New Zealand.

However, paying prospective Pasifika state house tenants to move to provincial New Zealand because they ‘perhaps have family connections there’ is not the answer.

Firstly, Auckland is where the jobs are. The current government’s investment in the regions has been woefully inadequate. Areas like Northland, Taranaki and Gisborne have some of the highest unemployment rates in New Zealand, well above the national average of 5.9%. In Taranaki, for example, unemployment rose by 2.1% to 7.3% in the June 2015 quarter.

Secondly, the plan is to move prospective state house tenants to places like Ashburton, Oamaru and Lower Hutt. An obvious flaw in this plan is that Housing New Zealand data indicates that there really is not a glut of empty state houses anywhere, let alone in these particular areas.

While there are over a 100 vacant houses on paper in Lower Hutt, apparently many of them are empty because they are earthquake-prone not due to a lack of demand. Ashburton and Oamaru don’t have any viable vacant state houses either.

Social isolation

Thirdly, a policy that pays people who are vulnerable to leave their home – a city that they are familiar with, where their family is, where their children go to school – to move to the provinces is a policy that potentially promotes social isolation. Research indicates that there is a significant correlation between how connected a person feels to their environment, and their physical and mental health outcomes. Reducing demand for state housing in Auckland to justify the sale of more state houses will not make the Government money in the long run. It will only shift Government spending from housing to health as social isolation and substandard rental and state housing lead to increased health issues.

Concentrated multiculturalism

A lack of social connectedness is even more of an issue for non-European migrants. Auckland is home to over 200 ethnicities and 160 languages. Auckland is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. It is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with delicious eateries offering various cuisines and numerous places of worship. It also plays host to many cultural events each year including festivals that hold a religious and cultural significance for various communities, writers, arts and music festivals. It is as multicultural as the regions are not.

Uprooting migrants from a multicultural environment in which they feel more comfortable, and paying them to relocate to a place that is potentially less accepting of them indicates that this government does not understand either the migrant population of the regions.

I moved to New Zealand largely to be in the provinces and I have lived in a few towns in the provinces. There were very few brown people like me there compared to Auckland.

While the current policy focuses on Pasifika communities, who says that the catchment pool will not widen eventually? I have worked with many migrant women survivors of violence who needed state housing to get back on their feet.

Will they be targeted next?

Voluntary migration

Voluntary migration to provincial New Zealand is great – but it must be incentivised through job creation and investing in infrastructure that attracts internal and international migration.

The proposed policy is merely punitive and will not address the problem at hand.

What we need is a well thought out plan to increase housing stock and address inflated house prices in Auckland; create jobs and invest in the regions to attract voluntary migration.

We need people-centred politics and policies that are evidence-based.

We do not need a government that punishes the poor and sells more state houses.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan is a voracious reader, champions social and community causes and is a strong advocate of ethnic and gender diversity in corporate governance and in public life. She is a Member of the Labour Party Policy Council and lives in Auckland.

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