Enclosure and Resistance in the State Housing Struggle (Voices of Women and Gender Minorities)

Article originally published in Fightback magazine’s special issue dedicated to paid radical writing by women and gender minorities.

Save Our Homes is a research and praxis collective based in Tamaki Makaurau. We believe that liveable housing is a human right and should be accessible to all. We run a website saveourhomes.co.nz as a resource and information base to support communties that are resisting against the state housing reforms, 90 day eviction notices and the ultimate destruction of their communities. More importantly, each of us in the collective work and stand in solidarity with the Tāmaki Housing Group, who are made up of the most militant kuia we have ever had the privilege to fight alongside, learn from and love.

Karl Marx in Capital Vol. I (1990) argues that so-called primitive accumulation involved the violent expropriation of people from the land and their means of subsistence, and the enclosure of that land for the purpose of private property. This process, that displaced peasants in fifteenth century Europe, is the same process that underpins colonisation, and new forms of enclosure such as the privatisation of state assets (Hodkinson 2012). Capital accumulation manifests today in Aotearoa in the form of privatisation of state houses, enclosure of ‘state’ land, and the gentrification of communities such as Tāmaki. These processes involve the displacement of people for the purpose of accumulation by private developers, and the implementation of particular discourses that the National government and property developers use to provide a publicly palatable justification. The resistance of state housing tenants, in particular, the Tāmaki Housing Group, has emerged from this situation of displacement by development, to speak a narrative which ruptures the discourses of those in power, bringing about new possibilities for change.  

Social Housing Reforms and Social Mixing Policy

In order to have an understanding of what is happening in Glen Innes, it is important to outline the policy shifts that facilitate capital accumulation in the community. The National government have implemented policy and legislative changes that significantly alter the landscape of state housing in Aotearoa. The fifth National-led government’s solutions to the housing crisis are centred on selling state houses, restructuring the social housing sector and redeveloping state owned land. The social housing reforms that began in 2013 have created the conditions for privatisation of state housing, and rest on the liberal capitalist logic of government avoiding interference in the market in order to facilitate competition in the creation of affordable housing. This follows international public housing reforms which posit privatisation as a solution to a crisis in unaffordability, a ‘solution’ that actually drives up house prices and leads to the displacement of low income tenants to the fringes of the city.

The government argues that selling state housing to Community Housing Providers (CHPs) will improve the conditions of state housing, however in the UK these stock transfers have led to an increase in rents, a lack of maintenance, and eventually full privatisation. This is because many of these community groups do not have the financial resources necessary to sustain the housing stock, as seen with the Salvation Army rejecting the government’s offer to buy stock (Feek 2015). The extension of the Income Related Rent Subsidy (IRRS) to community housing groups involves the direct transfer of wealth from the government to the private market.

The privatisation of state housing has been coupled with Reviewable Tenancies (RT) which involves reviewing state tenants on their eligibility for social housing based on their income and other factors such as room to tenant ratio. If tenants are no longer eligible they will either be transferred or forced into the private market. In an economic landscape where rents are increasing and wages as well as benefits remain stagnant, state tenants will be placed in competition with private renters and are likely to be displaced from their communities in search of affordable accommodation.

The transfer of state housing to community and charity groups materialises in the built landscape through urban policy, which aims at radically transforming state housing communities into ‘mixed’ tenure communities that consist of private, affordable and social housing. Leading up to the sale of state housing was a significant disinvestment in the stock (Johnson 2013), this devaluation, coupled with an increase in land values, creates the ideal conditions for a privatisation of the stock into a new market and a gentrification process of state housing communities. Marxist geographer Neil Smith (2010) argues that when there is a gap between the ground-rent of a particular geographical space and the potential ground-rent, it creates the ideal conditions for capital to move in and redevelop, capitalising on the speculated land value increases. There are state housing communities around Aotearoa situated on valuable land which are becoming ideal for state-led gentrification in the name of urban renewal.
Housing New Zealand in their urban renewal framework argue that ‘No community will have more than 15 percent of state housing presence’ (Housing New Zealand 2013, p. 10). Urban Renewal is the language used as a disguise for state-led gentrification. The government’s urban renewal programme is premised on the idea of mixed communities, an international trend which aims to have a mix of tenure in the same community. The logic of social mix is premised on solving the problems associated with the concentration of poverty such as crime and anti-social behaviour, however international research (Bridge, Butler, Lees 2012) has suggested that it is a front for state-led gentrification of communities seen as having high land values. The classical liberal rhetoric behind social mix is that the middle-class that move into these communities will bring with them resources and teach the poor how to better live, but what occurs in social mix is the erasure of the poor all together. This state-led gentrification process is occurring in the East Auckland community of Glen Innes.

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