Threats, abuse and assault: Auckland building manager speaks out on Kāinga Ora tenants' 'terrifying' behaviour

Threats, abuse and assault: Auckland building manager speaks out on Kāinga Ora tenants' 'terrifying' behaviour
Photo credit: Getty Images

Concerned Aucklanders are raising the alarm about the level of unsafety rising in the CBD.

Central city dwellers say they're seeing street fights, people punching and breaking car windows, drunk people shouting at police officers and other disorderly behaviour.

A building manager in central Auckland alleges some of his Kāinga Ora tenants have assaulted, abused and threatened to stab him.

Kāinga Ora says several internal programmes are being sped up and expanded, and new legislation means there's a larger scope to deal with this behaviour.

So what is it like in Auckland's CBD, and how are agencies working to manage anti-social behaviour?

'Absolutely terrified'

Building manager Paul* has lived in his Auckland CBD building for over three years, the exact location of which Newshub has agreed not to publish over fear of retaliation from his tenants.

He is responsible for over 180 apartments and a community of about 300 people. Several of these apartments are tenanted by Kāinga Ora residents, all of whom are single people or couples. There aren't any families.

Over the past three years, Paul says he and his team have experienced numerous incidents of anti-social behaviour from Kāinga Ora tenants.

"[There are] two very serious issues, one is threatening to kill me - I was threatened to be stabbed - and what makes that particularly concerning is that individual was on the same floor as me and my wife's absolutely terrified. The other one is the assault - that's with myself and a younger staff member," Paul tells Newshub.

The incidents of anti-social behaviour were already happening when he first entered the building three years ago as its manager.

"Kāinga Ora knows about these incidents. We've asked for these people to be relocated to other properties - which happens all the time," he says. 

But despite reporting these allegations to the agency, including sending CCTV footage as evidence, he says he's "pretty much been ignored" by them.

"I'm responsible and have a duty of care for about 300 people that live here, and you just can't have people in a high-density situation being fearful of what's going on around them," he says.

"In an apartment situation, it's totally unacceptable, because you're talking about a health and safety issue. It becomes a health and safety issue, it doesn't become a tenancy issue."

The resident allegedly threatened to stab him in January this year, Paul says, and the assaults occurred last year.

"It's well-documented, [Kāinga Ora is] just hoping that it goes away. There's been no explanation as to why they haven't responded or what they're doing about it."

In the past when Paul has gone to Kāinga Ora, he says he's either ignored or told to go to the police about the problems.

"Well of course it's with the bloody police," he says.

While Paul accepts that playing loud music and noise are part of living in the CBD, he says some of the incidents he's experienced in the building are dangerous and caused by "unsavoury characters".

"They need to be moved to somewhere I suppose is more suitable for them to reside, because clearly, an apartment situation is not suitable for those people," he says.

"In an apartment complex, you have rules, body corporate rules, and you get a list of all the things you can and can't do, and these people have no desire to follow that, so they need to go somewhere that better suits them and their needs, wherever that may be."

He says they jump on anything that happens inside the property, but what goes on outside its boundary is out of their control.

"We don't know what people go off and do in the middle of the night or during the day, but we can only manage what we have here," Paul says. "The frustration here is that there's a reluctance to do anything about it and it just continues to go unchecked."

Paul says Kāinga Ora needs to step up and resolve the problems.

"The thing that worries me is what happens if someone does get murdered or there's a serious issue, and then it's too late?"

Threats, abuse and assault: Auckland building manager speaks out on Kāinga Ora tenants' 'terrifying' behaviour
Photo credit: Getty Images

'We take action to respond'

Kāinga Ora says it works collaboratively and professionally with many body corporates and building management teams in the Auckland CBD.

John Tubberty, the agency's regional director for central Auckland, says they value the relationships they have with management teams and work hard to make sure any issues that arise are addressed and resolved quickly.

He says while there can be points of difference, they want to listen, understand and work together to solve problems.

"Over the past two years, Kāinga Ora has been committed to working with [Paul's] body corporate and building management. Our responses have included phone calls, face-to-face meetings, email correspondence and direct communication with the body corporate chair," Tubberty says.

"In some instances, we have also requested a meeting with the body corporate to discuss important issues affecting our customers. We do not ignore correspondence we receive and when we become aware of issues, we take action to respond to them.

"As part of doing this, we seek to identify the root cause of any customer issues as they arise and tailor our approach in a way that works for each individual and their whanau."

Kāinga Ora recently adopted new approaches to help support behaviour changes in tenants where needed, Tubberty says. This includes formal partnerships with justice, social and health agencies, specialised intervention teams, tenant retransfer policies, and community-based teams.

"Where there is illegal behaviour, we support the involvement of police. The most difficult cases are where behaviours fall short of breaking the law but still cause real distress," he explains.

"Often we make progress by working with people and families directly and other specialist agencies in addressing the very different life circumstances people come from and their sometimes quite complex needs."

New provisions in the Residential Tenancies Act mean there's a larger scope to address disruptive behaviour, Tufferty says. While Kāinga Ora has "always" moved people where this is warranted, the new rules mean they can do this faster.

They are also speeding up their new customer programme, which will increase the capacity in their frontline teams, which in turn will reduce the number of homes each person looks after. Tufferty says this means their most experienced teams can focus even more on working with a smaller group of tenancies.

Kāinga Ora is also expanding a new review group to escalate and respond to difficult and complex situations faster by drawing on input from other social agencies.

These approaches will be grounded by closer collaboration with other social service agencies with expertise and responsibility in addressing common underlying factors of "unacceptable" behaviours, Tufferty says.

'Things kind of go a little bit out of control'

Aucklander Tom* has lived in the CBD since the first lockdown last year. In the six months he lived in his first apartment, near the Sky Tower, he estimates he called 111 about 100 times.

"People would be fighting, I saw a guy punch a hole through the back window of a car while there was someone in the car driving, saw another guy punch a wing mirror off a car," Tom tells Newshub.

There was also public drinking, and sometimes when the police came, the drunkards would shout at them at "the top of their lungs" because there's "zero respect for law enforcement".

Even after some people were arrested, they'd be back in the same spot the following day, having been released.

Additionally, there's been two storefronts smashed in the short distance from his current CBD apartment to the local Countdown and a liquor store employee working on Hobson St Tom spoke to told him he'd heard two gunshots in the last three months.

Tom says he tries not to think about how unsafe the CBD is on a day-to-day basis but still worries about walking around at night.

"If my wife goes out by herself, I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable with her going out after dark by herself in the CBD. I would personally think twice about doing it myself, especially during the lockdown periods because it seems to get worse then."

Even during the day, he says he isn't on high alert but still has to be aware of his surroundings.

"I don't want to sound alarmist, because a lot of the time it's fine - but when it's not, it's very much not. If you walk up and down Victoria St West between Hobson St and Queen St, because there's so much construction there, there's just a lot of stuff happening there."

Tom says he's seen far fewer police on the street, and with more people working from home, there aren't as many eyes on it

"I think because there's no one there to not tolerate what's going on, things kind of go a little bit out of control."

Auckland Central Police is in the process of increasing its presence in the CBD.

"Police are working to increase our visibility and foot patrolling as much as we can in parts of the city centre in response to concerns about anti-social behaviour and offending."

The Victoria St West area is one spot that police are focussing on.

Auckland, New Zealand - February 29, 2016. A group of backpackers crossing Queen street in downtown Auckland, New Zealand.
Photo credit: Getty Images

'A real concern'

Tom penned a letter to both Auckland Central MP Chlöe Swarbrick and Mayor Phil Goff, outlining his concerns about how unsafe the CBD had become.

Swarbrick says his concerns mirror some of her own and those of other constituents who've got in contact with her.

She says she's focused on real-world solutions in helping resolve these problems.

"Issues of substance use, abuse and addiction, homelessness, poverty and mental ill health have been driven to crisis point by decades of political neglect and focus on rhetoric over evidence," Swarbrick writes in her letter.

"Conversations with frontline workers in the emergency housing you mention can quickly expose how understaffed they are; how a transformational opportunity to keep whānau who had for years fallen out of the system housed and supported was lost in a lack of necessary wrap-around resource in the first lockdown of 2020. These problems didn't appear overnight, but they have been left starkly exposed when the city went back into lockdown.

"Somebody with a roof over their head, enough kai in their belly, liveable income and knowledge that they matter within the community is somebody that is not inclined to be anti-social."

She adds that the police have told her that officers should've been returning to the streets from mid-November.

In Goff's reply to Tom, he says lockdowns have exacerbated problems for those in the community who face problems with homelessness, addiction, and mental health problems. He also says fewer people in the city make the streets feel less safe.

"The examples that you have raised are a real concern. There needs to be an effective response to crime and anti-social behaviour."

He outlines that council's role includes funding the likes of City Watch - who work with police to respond to alcohol and drug-taking, fights, threats, and physical altercations - and having a multi-agency approach to addressing safety concerns.

"Alcohol and drug abuse and the attraction to the city centre of people with mental health problems are the critical cause of the situation you described," Goff writes.

"These are made worse by Australia's policy of deporting offenders to New Zealand who have lived most of their lives in Australia and have no social networks here. These are all serious problems and need the investment of resources by central government to fix.

"We have proposed local alcohol policies to reduce the opening hours of liquor stores so that liquor is not sold late at night when already tanked-up individuals go out to consume even more.

"Sadly, our initiatives here have been held up by legal action and appeals by liquor interests."

Goff says he shares Tom's concerns and will continue to advocate for policies that address not only the effects brought up to him on safety but also the causes behind them.