Social housing tenants and welfare campaigners reacted with disbelief and anger to a decision by Christchurch City councillors yesterday to confirm a 24 per cent rent rise.
The move was met with jeers, heckles and shouts of "shame" from more than 100 tenants at a tense and emotional council meeting.
One woman stood at the end of the meeting and warned the rise meant she could not afford milk for her two-year-old daughter.
Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker swiftly left the packed meeting once councillors voted seven to six to reject a move to replace the 24% rise with a 5% rent increase.
The meeting was interrupted several times by jeers and heckles, while councillors speaking against the 24% rise were applauded.
Parker warned one insistent heckler that he would be removed if he continued to interject.
About 50 of the tenants present were given lifts to the meeting by Labour Party activists and other campaigners. Taxis were paid for by the Coalition For Fairer Rents if several tenants from one complex wanted to attend.
Parker's former mayoral rival, Labour activist Megan Woods, helped organise tenants to attend the 8.30am meeting, while Christchurch Central Labour candidate Brendon Burns gave three tenants a ride.
Burwood tenant Rebekah Savage said she would be left with about $20 a week for food, as the higher rent would eat into her invalid's benefit.
"It is going to be devastating," she said.
"I am already on the breadline as it is now. It will mean our food money will be gone."
Age Concern Canterbury chief executive Andrew Dickerson said Parker treated social housing tenants with disdain.
"I am disgusted with the decision and am deeply concerned the impact it will have on vulnerable people this winter," he said.
"The impact will be huge. We do not need leadership that will condescendingly look down on them (social housing tenants) and treat them with disdain."
Tenants Protection Association manager Helen Gatonyi said she was shocked by the decision. "I am overwhelmed. I am so shocked that after all those passionate pleas for compassion they did not change their mind.
"The hospital wards will fill up and food banks will be busier. It makes it difficult to work in partnership with a council that votes in a way that says it does not care," she said.
Sally Buck was the only councillor who originally voted for the 24% rise to be swayed by strongly worded presentations at the start of the meeting from social housing campaigners calling for the rise to be overturned.
The Rev Jim McKenna, of St Luke's Anglican Church, said the rise would force tenants to beg for food.
"If this 24% increase is implemented, together with rising costs of bills, a large percentage of city tenants will be forced below the breadline," he told councillors.
"They will not be able to cope. They will be forced to beg for food and clothes, not unlike those of a Third World country.
"As you consider the motion, I pray that God will grant you the gift of wisdom and compassion."
Parker said at a press conference after the meeting that reaction against the rent rise was "knee-jerk".
The rent increase meant 10% of social housing units could be refurbished every year with new curtains, carpets and kitchens.
He challenged MPs to provide $30 million for social housing in Christchurch before July 1 to avoid the rent rise.
Parker will meet Wigram MP Jim Anderton on Thursday.
"If they are concerned and feel this is unfair, as some of them seem to be saying, they could help us," he said.
"If the Government were prepared to give us $30m between now and July 1, we would be able to offer our tenants for the next 10 years a continuation of CPI (consumer price index) increases."
HOW THEY VOTED
FOR THE 5% RISE
Yani Johanson, Norm Withers, Chrissie Williams, Helen Broughton, Sally Buck, Bob Shearing.
FOR THE 24% RISE
Gail Sheriff, Claudia Reid, Bob Parker, David Cox, Sue Wells, Ngaire Button, Mike Wall.
- The Press