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Even the Bad Houses are gone

Christchurch Housing Crisis – Even the Bad Houses are gone

“They don’t even have the bad housing they had before”, Christchurch City Missioner, Michael Gorman says of the people who had lived in inner-city houses destroyed as a result of Christchurch’s earthquakes.

“Landlords have used insurance payouts to do up these older houses. Who can blame them. Then they’ve raised the rent and the people who were struggling to pay before have found it impossible and had to go. Homelessness is where you see some of society’s most glaring inequalities.”

Vaughan Milner, Chief Executive Officer of Presbyterian Support (Upper South Island), agrees. “The housing issues here are staggering”, he says. “There’s just not enough affordable accommodation and it particularly affects the vulnerable who just get pushed out. Despite the huge loss of inner-city housing, replacement social housing just doesn’t seem to have been factored in.

“From a social justice perspective the redevelopment of housing areas for people should have a higher priority than big ticket items like convention centres and stadiums. It’s really a case of placing people before the central city.”

Gorman says rent in Christchurch has reached impossible levels. “Some people have to stay with their relations. But after 3 years this can wear pretty thin. People are coming to the Mission and telling us they’ve been moved on.”

As a result, he says, people are sleeping in cars, sheds, or having turnabout in hot beds. “I heard yesterday of 18 people sharing a 3 bedroom house with a single toilet.

“The Earthquake minister talks about a market solution to this crisis. But private landlords aren’t interested in poor and difficult tenants. We need an immediate and frankly enormous injection of money from government into social housing. Shelter is a human right.”

“We’re noticing that even when people can find a house social support networks have been fragmented”, Milner adds. “In the new subdivisions new social infrastructure needs to be established. Unless we pay attention to this now, as a community, there will be problems ahead as a result of social isolation. This is especially true with the workforce moving in and out of the city.”

Presbyterian Support and the City Mission are both members of the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services and support “Closer Together, Whakatata Mai”, the Council’s focus on reducing inequality.

Gorman identifies employment in Christchurch as another place inequality is evident. “I’ve heard there’s only 3% male unemployment today in Christchurch. But the real question is, what kind of employment? What are people being paid?

“Some earn an almost frightening amount. But others get only the minimum wage which, in Christchurch at least, isn’t anything like a living wage.”

But it’s not all bad news. Milner notes that when the Council and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority have taken inclusive participation seriously there have been encouraging signs.

“The Council has recently placed an emphasis on community halls, parks, libraries and swimming pools – that’s visible evidence that they’re supporting community. CERA’s “Community in Mind” strategy for rebuilding health and wellbeing launched just last month is timely. But the ideas have to get buy in, support, and they have to be realised.”

“If we’re going to get things right we need to recapture something of the spirit of cooperation we had before”, says Gorman. “We need to stop kidding ourselves that there aren’t any winners and losers. There are some considerable winners, and some tragic losers.”

For further information, contact:

§ Michael Gorman, Christchurch City Missioner – 03 3710606.

§ Vaughan Milner, Chief Executive Officer, Presbyterian Support (Upper South Island) - 03 3638217

New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services is the umbrella organisation of the churches’ social service agencies in Aotearoa. Its social services networks encompass the Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Salvation Army social services in hundreds of sites throughout the country.


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