I recently caught a snippet of a news article around Kiwi Build houses. I suddenly thought “How many of these will be built with accessibility in mind?” I sat down that evening and fired off a considered email to Housing Minister Phil Twyford (and copied in local Councillor Penny Hulse; I know how passionate she is about West Auckland and its residents). To my surprise, I was invited to a meeting with them both.
While the Minister’s PA was emailing me to arrange the meeting, it came to light that I was unable to access his newly acquired office; there is a high step at the door. This led to the meeting being scheduled at a nearby coffee shop and restaurant with “better accessibility and parking”. I was amused to find that while the parking was more than sufficient, and that there is a ramp to the front door, the front door itself is so heavy and with a self-closing mechanism, that I was unable to open it and go in! I had to wait for another guest to come through and hold it open for me.
That aside, the meeting went well. I started with the issue of the door and that maybe the ‘disability standards’ in place for businesses etc may need to be re-examined. Housing Minister Phil also said that he had only recently acquired his new office (which I couldn’t access) and will look at accessibility as they are planning renovations before moving in officially. (I regularly drive past his office, and will take a keen interest in how it all goes.)
The thought of accessibility for KiwiBuild houses had not crossed his mind (it has now). He murmured words of “maybe we should look at a certain percentage in each area that KiwiBuild houses are constructed”. Non-committal I know, but from a tiny seed, a mighty oak shall grow.
I also raised the issue that despite the help of Taikura Trust, a hospital social worker, my community occupational therapist, the MS Society and CSS Disability Action, no one was aware of an organisation to assist people with disabilities to obtain suitable housing. I mentioned that if I were a victim of domestic abuse, a young single mother, an immigrant family or my disability was covered by ACC, then there is likely to be an agency to help.
I was sure to tell the Housing Minister that during my interview with Housing NZ, not only did they refuse to pass on the link they had to suitable housing on TradeMe, that if (and she had already stressed that I wouldn’t) I got onto the Housing NZ list, that I would be behind people with bad credit or a criminal conviction !! As a law-abiding, employed taxpayer, I had to end the interview at that point otherwise I would have had a criminal conviction.
The issue with the private rental housing market is huge if you have a disability. I haven’t found a landlord yet willing for modifications to be done, even though the Ministry of Health would foot the bill. The one house we did find (which was actually already modified), wouldn’t allow my service dog! I’m sure the toddlers who eventually moved in will be harder wearing on the carpet and walls than Walter!
Throughout this whole meeting, Councillor Penny Hulse was taking notes, making suggestions, and agreeing that change needs to happen somewhere, somehow. I know her; she will keep prodding and reminding Phil Twyford of various aspects which were brought up and discussed. There is a meeting in October with Housing Minister Phil Twyford, and Disability Minister Carmel Sepuloni. You can be sure that I will be there too.
As you can see, the conversation was wide-ranging and touched on a variety of housing issues faced by New Zealanders with a disability. I’m not sure that this conversation will change anything for me directly, but if it helps some people some time in the future, it will have been time well spent.