The Case for 'Homes for Life'
It is vital to begin poetically. We, as human beings need to enroot, to grow and to adopt. Enrooting, growing and adopting are dependent on time, on a long painful process that nourishes and hurts at the same time. We are not an exception to nature, yet we aim to dominate it. We are like trees, we need fertile soil, air, sun and water, to root deep in the earth, to be stable and to grow. And home is the place to root, to inhabit and live. Home for us is the soil for trees. And time is all we need to root in a place. Then, an eviction, every three years, is a form of gradual murder. And yes, this may appear to be too poetic, radical and ‘unrealistic’ in current socio-political climate, and specifically to the eyes of institutionalised and normalised individuals, who see the world through the lens of ‘law’ (no matter how impulsive it may be), ‘science’ (no matter how ideological it appear), and uncritical understandings of politics. Yet, that is the root of the problems (read Trump). The policy, the politics and the society is so detached from its roots, that anything out of the brutal, violent, cold and commercialised realm of legislative and legal sphere, seems ‘too poetic’.
The problem described above came to real life by the National Government through embarking on the Social Housing Reforms Bill 2013. The bill passed through parliament and became an Act. The Act, aimed for three explicit objectives:
- Reducing the role of State in the provision of Social Housing
- Optimising the efficiency of government in Social Housing
- Increasing the role of community in provision of Social Housing
Although all three objectives can be read critically and found deeply disturbing, yet one that matters the most here, is about ‘optimising’ and ‘efficiency’ of the government. Optimising and increasing efficiency directly means more profiting in less time. Hence, we can see that two of the key aspects of the reforms are ‘reassessing, re-evaluating and reviewing the eligibility of tenants’ and also ‘regeneration’ of social housing properties. Of course, one with a rational and mathematical logic, will find this ‘normal’ and ethically acceptable. Yet, the problem is that housing, homes and inhabiting are not rational matters. Inhabiting a house and making it into a home, cannot be reviewed or reassessed and judged, as the emotional attachments, family memories, the moments of giving birth and losing the loved ones, the smell and the feeling of a home cannot be reduced to stupid measurable factors, being ticked or unticked by social housing officers, specifically after living in a place for more than twenty years. Uprooting someone from her long life home, may be ‘rational’, yet is extremely inhumane. No matter what creed or race, social class or religion we are from, we feel attached to places that we live in. And if we are uprooted, every now and then, turned into transient object, disposable and worthless mass of flesh and bones with one or two luggage, well that is when someone emotionally, mentally and physically starts to deteriorate, fall apart and eventually die. Then again, an eviction of a lifelong social housing tenant, is a form of torture.
Considering the inhumane and dire situation of our urban communities in Aotearoa New Zealand, now it is the time to call for a ‘right to stay’ and make a case for Home for Life. Long-term tenants of social and state houses, based on their human conditions have a right to stay in their homes, for life. Home for life was indeed a central aspect in Housing Policies of this country for almost 70 years (see here, Evening Post, Issue 96, 23 April 1936). Through Social Housing Reforms Bill 2013, this policy overturned by introduction of three years tenancy reviews and enabling of third party agencies for eviction of long-term social housing properties.
For many state housing tenants, life does not mean anything out of their homes and communities. Their right, to their homes and the place that hold all their life memories and moments, is a sacred right that has to be understood, acknowledged and recognised, if not it has to be fought for and claimed. And we have to bear in mind that a cold, rational and political argument that a state housing tenant should ‘move on’ to open up the space, because she doesn’t own the place should be rejected, as this argument does not take into the account the human conditions of individuals and communities. It is based on the violent logic of profit making (for the State or the private sector) and results in dehumanisation, damage and destruction our whānau and society.
To sum up, the Social Housing Reforms in New Zealand, only aim to contribute to the economic agenda of the ruling party, rather than the well-being of the citizens. These policies, despite their wordiness and abstractness, have very concrete, palpable and adverse impacts on our whānau and communities. Emergency housing is a short-sighted and profit-driven policy that perpetuates the misery of low-income New Zealanders. Short-term tenure escalates the housing crisis as the tenants will be transient and constantly in a demoralising struggle against the social services and the private market. This further widens the wealth gap and diminishes the well-being and social cohesion of communities, specifically Māori, Pacific and ethnic minorities. Short-term housing is not only a social and political issue, it is a public health issue which is threatening the life of this and the future generations of Aotearoa New Zealand’s citizens.