Community airs anger after Kāinga Ora rejects pensioner housing on gifted land

Community airs anger after Kāinga Ora rejects pensioner housing on gifted land
Photo credit: Supplied to RNZ / Benji Nathan

By Rayssa Almeida for RNZ

Residents of the Auckland suburb of Blockhouse Bay say they feel defeated by Kāinga Ora's decision not to reserve any of a new development for retired people.

That was despite the fact some of the land was donated to Auckland Council in the 1970s specifically to house the elderly.

At a heated meeting on Tuesday night organised by Labour MP Deborah Russell, more than 100 residents had their first chance to confront Kāinga Ora about the development on Marlowe Road and Bolton Street.

Russell started the session, saying people should be polite.

"I know that in previous community pop-up sessions, some people have been quite abusive to Kāinga Ora staff. It's not acceptable, if it happens in this room, I will shut the meeting down."

During the session, residents got the chance to voice their concerns about the new development. But the frustration came early, when Kāinga Ora's regional manager Taina Jones told the room it is not obliged to reserve any of the land specifically for elderly people.

"We have decided not to designate any part of this development for pensioning housing," she said, while residents loudly expressed their disappointment.

Benji Nathan was the one who pressured the meeting to happen, after several frustrated attempts to get his concerns through in the drop-in sessions hosted by Kāinga Ora.

Armed with a lengthy list of questions, he said he was disappointed.

"Kāinga Ora has made clear with their instance that there won't be a chance to see pensioner housing within the plan. I don't feel like we will get a response back in terms of the moral obligation that maybe Kāinga Ora has towards pensioner housing."

He said he left the meeting without the answers he came for.

"[Kāinga Ora] obviously found their legal loophole that they are going to run with and as far as we are concerned, once that resource consent goes through, then they will be allowed to move forward with the development."

He said he would keep fighting for the community.

"I will distribute more flyers, talk to more people, I don't really know. But I won't stop, I'll keep going."

Another resident, Angela, said she lived across from the development and never received any official communication from the Crown entity about its plans for the new complex.

She said Kāinga Ora's lack of engagement with the community was disrespectful.

"I leave the meeting feeling useless, sad... We have been here generations. My father is almost homeless, he is 70. I wanted him to go into Marlowe [Road], that was my dream.

"Now, we just feel powerless," she said.

Tarawhati Williams has lived in Blockhouse Bay for 12 years. In an emotional speech, he asked Kāinga Ora to show kindness and empathy towards senior citizens.

"We have no issue with people coming to this community, in fact we welcome them. The issue that we have is that there's little to no consideration and it just opposes what we want as a community," he said.

"The pensioners, these individuals have been part of this community for far longer than we have been here, and we just want to see them here.

"You have to have a little bit of mana. This is not a development, this is greed."

Williams said despite all the talk, the community felt ignored.

"Kāinga Ora said it's all about communities. Why are they not hearing what the community is saying?"

Ivone has lived in Blockhouse Bay for five years, and said she left the meeting with no answers.

"I think they skirted around answering some of the questions, and I think some of the questions that we posed were quite significant and it made them feel uncomfortable, quite frankly."

The meeting lasted more than two hours and, apart from the relocation of senior citizens from the neighbourhood, the community brought up several issues with the new complex - including traffic issues, pressure on infrastructure and the lack of engagement with the community.

Kāinga Ora's Jones said she was happy with the turnout.

"I want acknowledge the community - a whole bunch of really passionate people who really are concerned that we continue to deliver social housing in this area."

Jones said the concerns raised by the community will be taken to the council.

"There were councillors here this evening that can actually feed back to influence that process, and that will be up to the council to address, not Kāinga Ora."

Asked about the toll that relocating elderly residents can take on their lifestyle, Jones said it was all part of the process.

"This is development for you."

'Social housing was not enough to comply with the gift'

RNZ has had access to the recommendations that came prior to the selling of the donated land to Housing New Zealand - now Kāinga Ora - back in 2002.

In its section about pensioner units, the report recommends Housing NZ was obligated under the agreement to retain the properties in order to accommodate pensioners.

Property lawyer Joanna Pidgeon said, while council should have complied with the recommendations, Kāinga Ora was only bound by the agreement signed.

"Housing NZ is committed to social housing, not pensioner housing specifically, hence the lack of specific commitment from Kāinga Ora to pensioner housing in the sale and purchase agreement. So while the report made representations, they have not been followed 100 percent in the actual sale agreement."

Pidgeon said, although not legally bound, Kāinga Ora had a "moral duty" with older citizens.

"People who grow up and live in communities, they want to stay in the community, not move elsewhere.

"There is a moral duty that Kāinga Ora holds in terms of making some accommodation for social housing that is suitable for elderly as well as for others in that space."

The report also indicated the council would use the profit from the selling of land to repay debt and establish a capital fund to be used for infrastructure projects in the city.

Pidgeon said using the sale proceeds for the repayment of debt by council would be in breach of the trust for the land in Blockhouse Bay.

"They [Auckland Council] are free to sell the gifted land for a different purpose, as long as the money made is used for the purpose of pensioner housing.

"It's the council's responsibility to follow the terms of the trust and they can't change that without a court order or the attorney general approving that change of purpose.

"If done correctly, the funds can be traced to check if they have been applied as per the donor's initial intention with the donation of the land."

Pidgeon said more structures should have been put in place, ringfencing the land to pensioner housing.

"Social housing was not enough to comply with the gift."

Kāinga Ora said pensioners would be offered the choice to return to the area where they had a desire to do so, and where their housing needs matched a home.

Auckland Council has been approached for comment.