Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 12. June 16, 1971
"The real speeches and decisions of this meeting will be made in the ensuing weeks". Tim Dyce's statement sums up the message of the Public Meeting on Accomodation. In itself the meeting was valuable for airing the divergent attitudes of Wellington politicians and the grievances of members of the public.
Tim Dyce, as chairman of the newly formed Wellington Citizens Committee on Accommodation, presented a well argued, if over stated, case. Research had revealed that main areas of dissatisfaction were lack of means of redress for either tenants or landlords; the land speculator, or shadowy figure who had been responsible more than anyone else for rise in rents; the effect of the motorway; the lack of sufficient finance from the government. Also he objected to the non-cooperative attitude of the Town Planning Department. The planners, he said, to roars of applause, did not like people studying the town plan because it had been changed many times and they didn't like being held to it. Rezoning of some areas for industrial use met special objection. If Wellington is not to die as a city it must have people living as near to its centre as possible. Places like Upper Cuba Street should be residential and not covered by warehouses.
Councillor Porter, as head of the Council Housing committee since its inception in 1963 joined in the appeal for more government finance. Even with 1,200 housing units in operation there were about 900 people on waiting lists and even this figure gives no real indication of the extent of the housing shortage. The motorway was a very real source of grievance. The houses the Council was building were just enough to replace those demolished to make way for 'progress'. Early promises of extra government help to solve this problem had been forgotten.
Again blame was laid squarely at the government for its lack of initiative in providing finance. A scheme for student flattetes centred on the Y.W.C.A. has been virtually abandoned in the face of apathy from the Minister of Health.
Tim Dyce's accusation of incompetence by the Town Planners, Councillor Porter labelled as extremely unfair. In recent years Wellington had been working hard in its town planning department and now proudly had the finest staff in the country.
Next speaker was Labour M.P. O'Brien, out looking for convenient (and preferably government) scapegoats. Like the University encroachment on the residential areas of Kelburn. And the Hospital Board for proposing to rise an area at present covered by houses, while it owned property that was utilized only to one level.
Then a long list of figures to illustrate his assertion that the last thing the government will do is appropriate finance. State Advances Corporation loans had decreased since 1960, as had state housing, and the total number of houses built. In all a strong political speech with shades of Labour's manifesto thrown in.
But he did offer a proposal that 104 single flats soon to be opened in Kilbirnie be filled by some of the single old people tying up large houses elsewhere. By his figures, 5,800 houses in Wellington are occupied by single people who because they own property cannot apply for Council flats. If a shortcut could be found round this bottleneck a considerable extra amount of housing space would be available. The proposal deserves further investigation and some enlightened action.
Then the speaker that all had been waiting for, not least people like Mike Law in the back row. With some hesitation Dan Riddiford started on what seemed like a departmental handout, but then surprisingly cast aside his notes and came out speaking stridently and confidently, like some new man. He would almost certainly make a better parish pump pusher than a national leader. Everyone was against Wellington for the number of unpopular decisions that necessarily emerged from it, he claimed. What was needed was more drum beating and insistence that the capital had a special need for finance.
Then a few shifty figures to counteract the weight of O'Brien's plus an assertion that the drop in State house building was due to the lack of demand, Also the usual old reply to rent control - that it means a lack of incentive to private developers.
Contributions from the floor made se sparks fly. A discussion of implementation of the Housing Improvement Act of 1969 which empowered local bodies to force landlords to improve properties led to a classic example of political buck-passing. A question on whether the Wellington City Council had used the provisions of the act had Chairman Kitts looking first to his left at O'Brien, then to his right at Porter for an answer.
Dr Smith from the Citizen's committee laid out very clearly just what action was wanted on the Housing Commission's recommedations. Two fields of immediate priority should be the provision of loans to owners of old houses and increased S.A.C. loans, coupled with restraints to prevent inflation of building costs.
Several other people took the opportunity to air their grievances, like rising rail fares and over priced sub-standard houses.
Whether the delegation of Wellington MP's and Councillors approved by the meeting will succeed in convincing the government of special accomodation needs in Wellington remains to be seen.
Public pressure could make the difference. Students can be a vocal political group and so many do have very real accomodation grievances. The need is plain and the solution at least in part is more loan money from the government and a more imaginative response from the Ministers Ray and MacKay. Success will depend to a large degree on how much noise groups like the Citizen's Committee can make. They deserve support.