Report by NewsroomPlus.com – “We’re here because we care,” was one of the rallying calls to gathered marchers at the Wellington leg of today’s Hikoi for Homes.
After proceeding from Cuba Mall to Civic Square, the marching band that had accompanied the Wellington Hikoi for Homes passed the musical baton on to others who provided a series of songs between a series of speakers.
In amongst the singing even Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith’s name popped up, in a set of lyrics from Women’s Trade Union ensemble Choir Choir Pants on Fire as they sang “truth to power”.
Dr Nikki Turner, first of the speakers, set out the issues that gave rise to the Hikoi for Homes – also held in Auckland and Christchurch – in no uncertain terms.
Turner is described on the CPAG website as an academic General Practitioner – in addition to working as a GP at the Pacific Health Medical Centre in Strathmore, Wellington, she also holds positions at both the University of Auckland and the University of Otago (Wellington campus).
Turner spoke of “families and children who get sick, and recurrently sick, because their housing is inadequate”.
The diseases, such as chronic lung conditions and rheumatic fever, that children contract leave them “cripples for their adult life” said Turner, calling the deprivation of their basic human right to be protected through safe housing a “national shame”.
Fittingly the first song interlude, by folk musician Nigel Parry, had at its centre the tragedy of Otara toddler Emma-Lita Bourne, who died last August after being hospitalised with pneumonia.
Before starting Parry praised the coroner who had the courage to assign a link between Emma-Lita’s death and living in a cold, damp State house. An excerpt from the song includes these words: “… they shared the damp and mould, now she’s never growing old, but Emma had a home”.
New Zealand expert on housing and health, Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman, spoke next, making reference to both the poisonous risks of mould and of the historic housing stock in this country that invites dangerously below-par temperatures indoors.
“It’s not an accident that children fall behind in their schooling through illnesses, and end up in emergency wards… we’re here because we care and we can do it better”.
Howden-Chapman didn’t hold back from calling out those Government ministers who have demonstrated a gross dismissiveness of the scale and nature of the housing infrastructure problem, while merrily signing off on billion dollar contracts for road infrastructure.
She called not just for safe housing, but secure housing, and housing stable enough for families to be settled in one place during their children’s schooling years and upbringing.
“It’s time to say to the Government, do you care?”
When State Housing Action Network (Shan) organiser Ariana Paretutanganui-Tamati spoke she said both National and Labour governments had dropped the ball on State and social housing.
She warned that the run-down state of Housing New Zealand stock was an ongoing excuse for its divestment, and “if National was unchecked it would all be sold”. She also used the term ‘social cleansing’ for the actions of the current government, adding that it is known around the world that “only the State can (provide) housing at the scale needed”.
Paretutanganui-Tamati also warned that New Zealand was being taken back to Victorian times and families’ ability to build any equity had been “stopped”.
Another speaker, Paul Barber, reminded everyone present that the renting population in New Zealand was not only one third of households, but up to one in two New Zealanders.
Barber spoke of a generation being left behind and in support of moves such as Wellington City Council’s decision on a Living Wage as “one part of a response”.
Pointing to the persistence and hard work paying off in the case of moves to a Living Wage he also gave a reminder that the housing crisis is not due to “mysterious forces beyond our control”.
“Unaffordability is an outcome of low incomes, and it’s not true we can’t do anything about these problems – we can”.
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SEVEN SHARP DEMANDS
As a demonstration of public mood, the Hikoi for Homes organisers – including the Child Poverty Action Group, Auckland Action Against Poverty, First Union and Unite – are hopeful that messages are heard loud and clear by politicians.
Be that by Ministers – and all parties – ahead of next year’s Budget or local body pollies ahead of the Local Government elections next year.
At its sharp end, Hikoi for Homes set out to make “a resounding statement to a government that’s negligent in providing basic living standards and welfare for its people”.
Seven calls to action that it put forward are:
- An immediate stop and to the sell-off of State and council housing
- A $1 billion annual budget for the provision of more state, public and not-for-profit housing
- Setting minimum standards for all rented housing
- Greater tenure protection for tenants
- Rent freeze for five years
- A statutory right to be housed
- State subsidies for modest income homeownership programmes
All with Philippa Howden-Chapman’s question implicitly sitting behind them: “It’s time to say to the Government, do you care?”