Weekend housing protest in Lower Hutt draws hundreds
They sang prayers, had a camp fire and sent the Government a resounding message about housing in Lower Hutt.
About 500 people attended a weekend-long protest organised by St David's Church in Naenae.
The protest aimed to draw attention to the amount of vacant Housing New Zealand land in Lower Hutt and the lack of plans for it.
Rev Martin Robinson said what really struck him was the number of people who dropped in to tell their story.
"I knew it was a crisis but I did not know just how bad it was … scores of folk talked about their own personal experience of living in garages or cars, or jammed in overcrowded houses. There were heaps of couch surfers."
More than 40 people camped out on Friday and Saturday night, which Robinson said reflected the high level of concern there is about housing issues.
The organisers met with HNZ to discuss the vacant land in Naenae and Epuni, but Robinson said the news was not good.
"It transpired that there are no plans and they are only at the high level, early conceptual, stage for Epuni … it will be years before they do anything in Naenae."
HNZ General Manager Asset Development Patrick Dougherty said church representatives were briefed on Friday of their plans for the site. They received an overview of HNZ's plans in the Hutt Valley area.
The plans are being developed to respond to changing demand for social housing, he said.
"We outlined how we are looking at redevelopment options on vacant land in the Hutt Valley, including the land at the centre of this weekend's gathering."
HNZ planned to keep the church, stakeholders and the wider community fully updated on this work, he said.
There have also been discussions with council and local iwi on the best way to develop the land with "new modern social housing" for the wider community, he said.
St David's has built four houses and Robinson said the answer to housing problems was for the council, HNZ and community organisations to take a co-ordinated approach.
One of the big issues is how to find accommodation for former prisoners in such a tight housing market, he said.
The protest received national media coverage and Robinson was hoping it would put pressure on the Government.
He planned to "reflect" on its success before deciding what their next move would be, but said it was important to keep the pressure on the Government.
Mayor Ray Wallace was impressed with the protest.
"I think what the church has done was fantastic. It is all about supporting people … there is an urgent need for housing, on all this vacant land, and I totally agree with them."
There is 17,000 sq m of empty HNZ land in Naenae and Epuni. Some of it has been vacant for more than four years and he said that was unacceptable when people need housing.
"I still have grave concerns that there are still no plans or visions."