Vanessa Cole is a member of the Tāmaki Housing Action Group.
This article will be published in Fightback’s magazine on Urban Revolution and the Right to City. To subscribe, click here.
Elderly tenant Ioela ‘Niki’ Rauti has made headlines for refusing to be moved from her house on Taniwha Street, Glen Innes. While she has received support from many people, the backlash from some commentators have tried to derail her struggle by framing her as selfish for holding on to a three-bedroom home during a housing crisis. Niki’s struggle is not an individual struggle, but a struggle of people against the processes of capital accumulation and its manifestation in the state-led gentrification of Tāmaki.
In The New Zealand Experiment, Jane Kelsey shows New Zealand’s historical habit of blindly following economic ideas that had never been trialled elsewhere in the world. The Tāmaki experiment is much the same – adopting urban planning and privatisation which have failed internationally. The transfer of 2,800 state houses in Tāmaki (Panmure, Point England and Glen Innes) to the Tāmaki Redevelopment Company (TRC) is privatisation by stealth. The insidious language used by the TRC frames this transfer as urban ‘regeneration’ – a grand project which will see the building of more homes and the revitalising of a community which embodies the problems associated with the geographical concentration of poverty.
The experiment in Tāmaki is a well-orchestrated campaign. The reality of these policies, without the spin, is mass privatisation of state housing, the displacement of the poor through state-led gentrification processes, and destruction of working class communities by private developers into a desirable and attractive landscape for an incoming middle-class. If Tāmaki was the experiment for the rest of Auckland, and for the rest of New Zealand, then it is a failed experiment. While the redevelopment has received public attention and criticism, the discourses and myths produced by the Government are powerful in justifying and dampen the violence of dispossession.
Paula Bennett promised that freeing up public land by removing state homes in Tāmaki and building more houses will help alleviate the exorbitant increases in house prices and build more houses for those in need. Yes, more houses have been built, but providing public land to private developers has led to exploding unaffordability. The median land values in Glen Innes, one of the first areas to be redeveloped, have increased from $400,000 to nearly 1 million since the redevelopment begun in 2012. The housing market in Tāmaki demonstrates that increasing supply and density of housing does not necessitate affordability. One reasons is that our existing affordable housing (state housing) is being replaced by a large amount of private housing, and property developers are not interested in the reduced profits of “affordability.” State housing once functioned to stabilise the housing market in particular areas, meaning that surrounding rental properties were cheaper. Very few people will be able to rent an affordable house in Tāmaki once this project is completed, particularly if landlords continue to capitalise on the increasing land values in the area.
As for the argument that “mixed-tenure communities” will provide better access to resources for the poor and solve the social problems facing unevenly developed communities. Most of the international research suggests that this new urban planning logic does the complete opposite. The logic of social mixing is built on classist ideas of middle-class neighbours teaching the poor how to behave and providing aspiration for mobility. This is a logic which ignores the economic processes which occur when capital moves into low-income communities, processes which lead to displacement and social cleansing.
Developers in Tāmaki have to build a certain proportion of social and affordable houses as part of the deal of buying and accessing cheap public land. Their main goal, however, is to profit from speculating on land value increases. While the TRC have promised tenants that they can remain in the area, this was a reluctant concession following years of community resistance, and does not account for other forms of eviction through the Social Housing Reform Programme (SHRP) which begun in 2013.
The establishment of a social housing market by means of transferring state housing to Community Housing Providers (CHPs) is occurring under the rhetoric of efficiency. Tāmaki Regeneration, a company set up to regenerate and redevelop Tāmaki, is now one of these new ‘social’ landlords, given 2,800 households to manage. As part of the company Tāmaki Housing Limited Partnership manage the tenancies, and Tāmaki Regeneration Limited are in charge of redevelopment. The Government will argue that this is not privatisation as the TRC is currently owned by the New Zealand Government (29.5% Bill English, 29.5% Nick Smith) and Auckland Council (41%). The TRC, however, was set up in the interim period to manage the properties and the tenancies. Soon, however, the tenancies will be transferred to various different social housing providers and the land will eventually be sold to developers and investors to build the mixed tenure housing.
If we look to the UK, this process of transferring management of public housing stock to private organisations lead in many cases to privatisation. Without sufficient subsidies to support management of properties, private developers are the only organisations that can withstand the costs. The Salvation Army have already backed down from taking on state housing stock for this very reason. The most concerning issue here is the foreshadowing of large scale privatisation in which the private market is held as the sole supplier of the basic human right to housing.
While we are promised to reap the benefits and efficiencies of privatisation, history has shown that the private market does not provide affordable and secure housing for the working class and unemployed. Housing is a right, and an essential material need. To sell it off to private developers or transfer it to private housing providers is to commodify something that should be for living. When Niki is standing up against the redevelopment of her home, she is standing up against the economic processes by which capital dispossesses the poor for the profit of the rich. We need to resist the narratives of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor, and fight for the right of all to affordable, secure and public housing. We need to unite to dispel the myths of regeneration and to fight the historical and continual dispossession of people by capital. We need to stand with Niki, because she is standing for you.