Something magic is happening in Campbell Street, Raureka. The neighbourhood is coming together in a community effort to find a family to fill a statehouse. One that has been empty for nearly 18 months.
They are doing this because it is beyond the capability of the Government.
The people who live in Campbell Street are a mixture of homeowners, many who have lived there more than 25 years, along with those in private rentals and state housing. The street has a local kindergarten, two nearby schools and a bus stop for public transport.
Everything is pretty good, people know and look out for each other. Everyone, that is, except for one BIG BAD landlord – the Government.
1019 Campbell Street is a house I know pretty well. For me it represents the complete disregard the state has for support of good social housing. Because it is only one of hundreds of houses just like it right across the country.
Indeed, sitting right behind 1019 Campbell Street and many of the other residents’ houses is a whole lot of condemned Housing NZ two-story buildings that should be pulled down – but will probably fall down first.
I first knocked on the door during the election campaign, when I met the long-term tenant. He had recently lost his partner and Housing NZ had told him he needed to move out because it was too big for him now. He was worried about where he would go.
The house was in a shocking state. He couldn’t tell me when he’d had curtains, the floorboards were rotting, no insulation, the fire didn’t work, the bathroom leaked, mould covered the walls … the house was freezing.
But that’s about what I’ve learned to expect with statehouses that successive governments have neglected.
I promised to come back and check if he was okay. When I returned, the neighbours let me know he’d found another HNZ house and was living there with his daughter and doing well.
There were builders doing a complete makeover. It amazed me why the state had waited until after he moved out to do anything about the poor conditions he and his partner had been living in and putting up with for years.
A few months later I came back, hoping to see a family living in it – but sadly no.
So I started asking questions. Apparently despite offering it to three prospective tenants, no one wanted to move in – really?
How can this be when there are about one hundred on the waiting list? When there are families living in overcrowded housing, in hotels and garages, in caravans?
So I asked around – was something wrong with the house, was the street unsafe?
I also started asking questions about the government’s spending on state housing across Hawke’s Bay. Why spend thousands on the house and leave it empty – money down the drain?
Leave it empty and the vandalism starts. The house now has smashed windows, the guttering had been ripped off and the new carpet is missing.
Then some of the residents gave me a call. They were fed up with what this empty house was doing to the reputation of their street and wanted to sort it out.
I met David and Elizabeth Moat and Judy Fletcher, who have enjoyed living in their Campbell Street homes for more than 25 years. They want to see a family move in and make it a home. They fear that because the house has been left empty and deteriorated the Government will say there is no demand and sell it below GV. This will drop the equity in their own homes, which is grossly unfair.
So they invited residents to a community meeting and they had a good turnout. We met a chap who has a sick baby and is desperately waiting for a better place – he thought 1019 Campbell Street was a massive improvement from where they were living. A young mother with three children turned up, she was living in a caravan and would love to live in the house.
Two families desperate for a home and yet this house is empty. Imagine what message this sends to people in need of affordable housing.
Over the past three years the Government has spent about $30 million on repairs and maintenance of its housing assets in Hawke’s Bay. But the bureaucracy cannot tell me where or what on – they don’t record what houses have work done.
It is wrong, there is no accountability, no follow up, no plan.
I don’t think it’s too hard to sort out. But it won’t happen while there is no one on the ground responsible for dealing with state housing in the region.
So in the meantime a house stays empty and a family waits.
At the meeting they agreed to write an open letter to Tukituki MP Craig Foss. They want to know how much of taxpayers’ money was spent on the house, who would meet the criteria to live in the house, and what action he would take to get a family in it.
But a decision to sell it, the last thing Campbell Street wanted, has been made.
For 18 months the house stayed empty and a family waited, despite 100 on a waiting list in Hawke’s Bay.
It won’t come as a surprise when an investor snaps it up and puts a family in it. It’s likely that when the family moves in and is required to pay market rent, they will need to go to the state for an accommodation allowance.
So the investor gets a guaranteed income paid by the taxpayer for doing the job the Government couldn’t do and will make a profit off housing the poor.
Despite being sold out, the one thing the Government can’t do is break Campbell Street’s community spirit. Good on them for standing up for the little guy.