Well, there goes the neighbourhood

The government is to give the Auckland suburb of Tamaki an extreme makeover, but is it all good news for the folks who live there, or band-aid politics?

Amazing what you read in the paper. My neighbourhood is officially a hole, so bad that the government has stepped in to clean it up, or at least the worst pockets of it. A full $52 million dollars is to be dropped on the Tamaki area—Glen Innes, Pt England and Panmure—in a 20-year project that will "transform a strategically important community", according to the Herald and Scoop.

I was especially surprised to learn that a street in my 'hood is considered one of Auckland's worst, according to police, a centre for gang activity and a place residents of the state would rather not be assigned. That is what I feared when we moved here last year but so far all my interactions with locals have been friendly and I feel quite safe. More fool me, I guess.

But I need not worry because Housing Minister Phil Heatley and co have earmarked 120 state houses for renovation and intend to build a further 150 as well as subdivide bigger residential sections and sell them off. The idea is to boost private ownership of homes (currently a meagre 28 percent in Tamaki) and improve the neighbourhood's character. Which, if I'm not mistaken, means ship some of the poorer residents outta here (median income in Tamaki is $17,000 a year) to make way for more people like my husband and me—the, ahem, upwardly mobile.

As a homeowner, I am obviously pleased that my taxes are being used to insulate homes and funnelled back into projects that will improve my property value, but as a member of the community I have to ask, where are my neighbours supposed to go? And why is it taken as read that "changing the area" requires residents to move out?

I took a drive round the streets earmarked for improvement and I must say, to my eyes they don't look any worse than any of the other streets around here. Either I have become immune to the sight of mouldy sidings on houses, crumbly roofs, peeling paint, broken downpipes, and bits of inorganic rubbish piled in front yards, or the sub-standard housing problem is bigger than I realised. That $52m might not go far.

Kestrel Place, cited in the Herald as having "a number of derelict houses" seemed pleasant, not gorgeous but the kind of place a realtor would fizz over because of its untapped potential. Mature trees lend the street a wholesome, leafy character and one apparently new house looked as shiny as a five-cent piece. Of course, I have no idea what the homes' interiors are like: they could leak like sieves and have Swiss-cheese walls. I certainly have no problem with improvements in Kestrel Place, or any of the streets picked out by the Ministry of Housing.

Around the corner from our place is the worst house in our neighbourhood, or at least the one that makes me saddest. It is a wooden, um, shack with dirty curtains, a wonky mailbox, and toys strewn on the front lawn alongside creatively parked vehicles. It doesn't look weatherproof, or big enough for the number of people who apprently live there, and it sure as heck doesn't look like an uplifting place to spend your life.

I don't know if it is a government-owned house but I'd be willing to bet it is paid for by you and I—and that it hasn't been inspected in a loooong time. According to what I read in the paper, there are no immediate plans to improve houses in that street, or any of the three or four neglected streets near us.

So how did Phil and friends decide which streets to make-over and which to leave? Can I nominate the sad house for an extreme makeover? Do I have to wait 20 years?

Speaking of which, 20 years is a long time to devote to improving a community "facing considerable social and economic challenges". A generation will grow up in "houses in urgent need of repair and refurbishment". I'd hate for a change of government to stall the works. There is no doubt that folks round here deserve warmer, healthier, more cheerful homes. Pronto.

I'd also hate to think that Tamaki is being targeted because it is a physically appealing area with water views and big nature reserves that is close to moneyed suburbs including Kohimarama and Remuera, all of which makes selling off sections and state housing stock pretty profitable. But I can't help thinking that has something to do with it.