by ROWENA OREJANA
A nun working in one of the poorest parts of South Auckland has criticised the government’s housing policy as missing the mark for New Zealanders.
Mercy Sister Anne Hurley, is an advocate for the Wiri community in south Auckland,
said she believes that although there are positive aspects to the policy, it was basically created for economic reasons. She spoke at the “Working Together for Vulnerable People” workshop at St Columba Centre in Ponsonby.
“In spite of its name, ‘social housing’ has little to do with the wellbeing of all New Zealanders,” she said.
She said the change in the vocabulary used by government to promote housing is very concerning.
“The change from ‘state or public housing’ to ‘social housing’ camouflages the obligation
that the state has to house the poor. It implies that people need a home only if they have
complex needs, requiring ongoing support and wraparound services,” she said.
“Many New Zealand families just need somewhere affordable to live. Public housing acknowledges and addresses that need. Social housing targets a much narrower group of people.”
She said Catholic social teaching as enunciated formally in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII in his
encyclical Rerum Novarum tells us that “we are all made in God’s image. We all need the necessities of life, food, housing, clothing in order to live in dignity.”
The government, however, seems to be moving away from providing housing to those in
“It has become increasingly apparent that the government wishes to grow community housing by selling or transferring state housing to the community sector. There are concerns
that this will not actually expand the number of houses available, but just change the
ownership,” she said.
A church housing summit held on February 4 in Auckland that she attended reached a number of conclusions, among which is that New Zealanders have the right to healthy housing.
“Government needs to accept its responsibility to provide housing for those who need
it and to develop a housing strategy encapsulating these rights and our history and act
on this,” she said.
Other points agreed on were the need for more houses, government investment in capital funding, as well as a continuum of housing for emergency accommodation.
Participants in the summit also agreed that any transfer of state housing should be to other public structures — state houses should remain in public ownership. “Community
owned — not NGO owned or church-owned — but publicly owned through the community,” she said.
Sr Anne also challenged everyone at the workshop to reflect on where they stand
on the issue of housing.
“As church people, are we here to collude with the unjust policies of the state, favouring some people rather than all, or do we work towards the more difficult and uncomfortable place of being prophets at the gate?” she asked.