Earthquake risk breaks up neighbourhood

The Castor Loop community will be ripped apart by unexpected Housing New Zealand evictions to strengthen or demolish earthquake-prone state houses, tenants say.

Forty-four Porirua tenants in nine buildings have been told their homes are vulnerable to a quake and they need to move out within 90 days. Twenty-six of the tenants are in Titahi Bay, 14 in Cannons Creek and three elsewhere in Porirua.

All are in two-storey, three-unit buildings which have brick walls between units and are further compromised by brick chimneys, old foundations and their location, says Housing New Zealand project stakeholder manager Hope Simonsen.

The buildings meet less than 20 per cent of code, and will be brought up to 67 per cent.

Strengthening will take three to six months, but houses that cannot reach code will be demolished, Mrs Simonsen says.

Tenants are being rehoused throughout Porirua by Housing New Zealand, which will cover moving costs.

Half have been found new homes already.

"We wouldn't wish this on ourselves. We would rather a slow, measured, strategic way but we haven't got that luxury, unfortunately," Mrs Simonsen says.

"Safety is the most important thing. We don't want to leave tenants in a house which is a potential earthquake risk."

The eviction of Castor Loop households is the third blow in recent years for the beleaguered Cannons Creek community. Three years ago, 27 ageing properties were demolished in the Loop, ostensibly to be replaced by either private or social housing, but no developers have taken the project on and the land remains empty.

The neighbourhood has also put up with empty, fire-damaged state houses left in disrepair, says the Russell School board of trustees chairman, Matt Crawshaw.

Mr Crawshaw and Russell School principal Sose Annandale organised a community meeting last Tuesday night, attended by 20 state house tenants, representatives from Housing New Zealand and community leaders.

Communication is an area where Housing New Zealand have "badly let down" the community in the past, so frequent updates on the upgrades would be appreciated, he said.

The community was never informed that redevelopment plans for the demolished block had stalled, he said.

Worries expressed by tenants at the meeting included the poor condition of temporary accommodation and the likelihood of delays in repair work. Many tenants have been neighbours for years and are devastated to have their streets broken up.

"This is ripping our neighbourhood apart," said Hazard Gr resident Kiri Higgs, who was given notice a month ago and will move to Astrolabe St.

Her neighbour, Josie Huntley, has lived on Hazard for 13 years and often babysits Ms Higgs' son.

Ms Huntley's mother, Jean Creelman, is another neighbour and both women worry about boarded-up, empty houses becoming a target for vandalism.

Local Labour party chairwoman Carole Hicks, representing MP Kris Faafoi, said children would suffer from the relocations.

"We've got kids who are well- settled in their schools.

"They're a good community unto themselves, frequently the heart of the community, and you're just ripping it apart."

Kapi-Mana News