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Church communities lament shortage of social housing

The Anglican Church
In Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
Diocese of Wellington

Church communities stage multiple protests on vacant Housing New Zealand land to lament shortage of social housing

Wellington, Sunday 27 August: Church communities and local residents are holding services of lament on empty Housing New Zealand plots across the lower North Island to mourn the government's failure to adequately house struggling New Zealanders.

The Anglican diocese is holding ‘Services of Lament’ in Strathmore, Lower Hutt, Porirua, Palmerston North and Wellington Cathedral to collectively mourn the lack of social housing available for New Zealanders. Of the five services of lament, four will be held on empty Housing NZ land. Lament is a centuriesold practice of acknowledging grief as a step towards healing and restoration.

The Anglican Diocese of Wellington wants the government to urgently increase the supply of social housing, particularly on the sites where lament services are being held, in consultation with the community.

An Official Information Act request by the Anglican church has revealed that as at April 30, 2017, of the 3500 hectares of Housing NZ land under management, 64 hectares was vacant – that’s equivalent to about 64 rugby fields. Of those 64 hectares, only half was earmarked for redevelopment. That leaves about 32 hectares of vacant land without any immediate plan. Based on typical densities for single family homes or townhouses, there could be 800-1600 dwellings built on 32 hectares of land. (See Department of Internal Affairs, definition of density.)

Anglican Bishop of Wellington Justin Duckworth says the empty land is a symbol of our society’s inaction while Kiwi’s are struggling without homes.

“New Zealand has the worst rate of homelessness in the OECD, with 40,000 people living on the street, in emergency housing, in sub-standard garages and sheds or in severely overcrowded housing.”

“We are holding these services to lament the current housing crisis in New Zealand. It is unacceptable that our lack of social housing is leaving people without homes. This vacant land is a symbol of the fact we can - and must - do more. We call on the government to urgently build more social housing. And we call on New Zealanders to consider housing when they vote,” Bishop Justin Duckworth says.

These lament services follow earlier church action to highlight housing problems. In April this year, St David’s Anglican Church in Naenae staged a protest on vacant Housing NZ land opposite the church to highlight the need for more social housing in the Wellington region. Following the protest, the government announced a new programme of building in the Hutt Valley.

St David’s Church priest in charge Reverend Martin Robinson says this action doesn't go far enough to address local housing challenges.

“We’re joining in with the cries of anger, frustration and grief of people who have been ignored and forgotten by our current government. They have sat on their hands for the past three terms as the situation escalated to crisis point. Some people have few to no housing options left and have resorted to couch surfing or having their families scrape together what they can to get by,” he says.

“The competition for buying and renting is epic and the number of people waiting for Housing NZ accommodation is increasing. Meanwhile, the government is shelling out millions of dollars for emergency accommodation which could be going towards creating more social housing and affordable homes.”

The Thorndon lament service at the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul will also mark the opening of the Turangawaewae Art Project – ‘exploring the impacts of homelessness’.

Forty-two tangata (wooden people) artworks have been created by 14 individual artists in collaboration with the Wellington City Mission and the Anglican Diocese of Wellington. It explores the impact of homelessness within the New Zealand definition, which includes those with no shelter, those in temporary accommodation, those in shared accommodation and those in houses not fit to live in.

The 42 Tangata represent the approximately 42,000 people recorded in the 2013 census who live within this definition of homelessness. The Tangata will stand on and around the forecourt of the Cathedral from 28 August – 2 September.

To coincide with the Turangawaewae Art Project launch, the Wellington chapter of the God Squad, a global Christian motorcycle club, is having a motorbike ride from Lower Hutt to the Cathedral for the launch. They are using it as an opportunity to raise funds among their members to support those experiencing homelessness.


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