Bulldozer time for HNZ units

Did Housing New Zealand learn nothing from the Pomare experience?

That is what MPs and the leader of a local health clinic are asking after news broke last Thursday that HNZ will demolish 68 units at the eastern end of Jackson St.

There was little or no consultation, and no plan is in place for replacing the lost state housing stock.

By the end of March, there were 130 individuals or families on the HNZ waiting list in Hutt South and Wellington.

Six of the 11 high-rise blocks will be bulldozed, with HNZ's Area Manager Tenancy Services Stephen Wilson noting there had been "extreme difficulty" in finding people willing to live there.

After the death of Alonsio Iafeta Matalasi last August [two men are standing trial on murder charges later this year], Wilson said HNZ worked with tenants and police to improve safety, and installed security cameras and fencing.

Antisocial behaviour decreased but 42 of the 68 units now earmarked for demolition remained vacant.

"One entire block is empty, and also vandalised to the point it is uneconomic to repair," Wilson said.

While Hutt South MP Trevor Mallard (Labour) and Petone- based Green MP Holly Walker agreed there was a case for renewal, like the manager of the Hutt Union Health Centre (HUCH) Sally Nicholl they believe HNZ's consultation has been poor.

Nicholl said that by the time HNZ came to tell the news to HUCH's Petone clinic - just 90 metres away from the affected flats - eviction notices had already been distributed.

The MPs and Nicholl are all highly critical that the only plan in place for when the blocks are gone is talk of landscaping and perhaps a community garden.

Five or six years ago there were draft plans for a major overhaul of the high-rise blocks at that end of Jackson St, but they came to nothing.

Holly Walker, who sits on the Social Services select committee, said that on the day HNZ gave the committee an undertaking that it would improve consultation processes, it was telling the 26 affected Petone tenants they would have to move.

There had been no prior consultation with them, or the wider community.

HNZ told the select committee that morning it acknowledged disruption redevelopment had caused in Pomare, Glen Innes and Maraenui, and accepted its initial community consultation processes were inadequate.

The corporation gave assurances "it has learnt from its mistakes, has established better consultation processes, and will apply them in any future redevelopment".

Wilson said HNZ had met "a number of stakeholders", and had sent a letter to nearby Petone residents about its intentions "and will keep them updated as things progress".

HNZ will find alternative accommodation for all evicted tenants, he said, including in the 61 units in remaining high-rises.

"So far 12 tenants have indicated they want to remain in Petone, and six have indicated they would like to move to another area."

Mayor Ray Wallace said he would have been more concerned had most of the flats been tenanted, but "it was a bit of a ghost township down there".

There was an opportunity for "revitalisation" of the area, and the council would press HNZ to get on with a plan that addressed that, he said.

Mallard said the style of apartments was of a kind that "no-one would build today". Nevertheless, he believed a big part of why they were not tenanted was the fact that HNZ stopped doing maintenance on them in the past three or four years.

The MP said the loss of the 68 Petone units was on top of "hundreds" of HNZ units in the Hutt Valley being empty while "an extremely slow process" of earthquake testing and strengthening was done.

However, Mallard sees potential for a mixed housing development in Petone - even better than was finally getting under way in Pomare after all the delays. With the Unilever plant closing, and Exide gone, a huge area of land is available and some would be suitable for modern, attractive apartment blocks.

He wanted HNZ to now sit down with the city council and get on with working out a renewal plan.

Walker also sees redevelopment potential but was concerned that after being left as green space for a while, HNZ would say "hey...Petone is a very desirable area. "We'd be better off selling these properties and build [state houses] elsewhere.

"We'll end up with that land being given over to private developers."

Walker "strongly believed" that tenants forced to move should have first right of refusal on any new homes built on the vacated land.

Building state houses only in low income areas "reduces the diversity of our neighbourhoods.

"One of the things I love about Petone is its diverse mix of incomes and ethnic backgrounds.

"I see this as a real attack on that."

The Green MP said tenants should be involved from the outset in planning for the future. That should have been the lesson learned from Pomare.

"A more fair and sustainable redevelopment process would involve those people, so they felt part of the efforts to revitalise the community."

Nicholl said the state house stock in the Hutt Valley was being eroded. With fewer houses and growing financial pressures, there was overcrowding and that was a major reason why HUCH's clinics in Petone and Pomare were dealing with "third world diseases" such as rheumatic fever.

Hutt News