Members of the St David’s Anglican Church in Naenae is camping out this weekend.
They've pitched their tents on a 2500m2 block of vacant Housing New Zealand land across the road from their church – because they’re wanting to draw attention to the housing crisis in their suburb, and across the Hutt Valley generally.
Four years ago, Housing NZ gave notice to hundreds of tenants throughout the Hutt Valley, says Martin Robinson, the Priest in Charge of St David’s.
Scores of houses were boarded up, then eventually knocked down, leaving tracts of barren land.
In the Naenae-Epuni area, for example, 17,000m2 of Housing NZ land now stands vacant.
Beyond repair – but beyond replacement?
Martin Robinson accepts that many of the demolished houses were beyond repair.
But they needed to replaced with better quality social housing, he says.
“This removal has helped create epic demand for housing,” says Robinson, “which has in turn lead to rental price hikes and housing prices pitched way out of reach for too many urgently needing housing.”
“We've just a group of concerned citizens, really, who are trying to make our concerns known. Because this really is a crisis.”
Robinson says there were eight houses on the land across the road from their Seddon St church.
The people living in those homes were moved out in December 2012, and their places were demolished. Housing NZ have confirmed they have no current plans for that site.
Too many competing for too few homes
“Housing is a basic human right, but we don't see the government responding to that need in our neighbourhood,” he said.
“Instead, what we see is 100 applicants turning up to rent an ordinary house.
“We see overcrowding, with all of the flow-on health and family issues. We see the numbers of people on MSD's social housing register for this area doubling in two years – from 107 in December 2014 to 215 in December 2016. And we see 94 of these people are looking for housing in Naenae.”
“The same demolition that has happened here in our street has happened on Naenae Rd, and on an epic scale throughout Epuni (the neighbouring suburb).
“By way of contrast, during that same period, we as a church built four houses with our own limited resources: two of these on the church land itself.”
Parish in the paddock
Robinson said the protest would be peaceful.
“We’re just camping on the site for the weekend and during that time there’ll be a range of activities on site.”
The protest began on Friday evening with a soup and bread meal. The oprganisers scheduled a “Picnic and Play” activity from midday Saturday till 1:30pm – followed by an evening potluck meal, prayers and singing. A space has also been set aside for 24/7 prayer.
On Palm Sunday, the church will host “Parish in the paddock”, followed by a picnic lunch – and they will wrap up their demonstration with “a media event” which will include a speaker and a prayer march.
Church members hope to engage with passers-by and speak to people who have their own stories about housing.
“Our congregation feels very upset about this lack of action from the Government,” says Robinson. “Like so many that we know, we want accountability, consultation and action.
“The ball has been dropped for far too long.”