- Date published:
6:29 am, December 9th, 2017 - 70 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, class war, drugs, housing, labour, national, phil twyford, same old national, the praiseworthy and the pitiful - Tags: housing corporation, methamphetamine
One of the stupidest most inhumane things the last Government did was to develop a tough on tenants policy regarding methamphetamine. Not on cooks, but on people living in flats where minuscule traces of methamphetamine were found. They were summarily evicted. Bad enough that proof that they actually caused the methamphetamine traces to be present was not required but what made it really crazy was they misinterpreted and misapplied Department of Health data on what was a safe level of methamphetamine.
Belligerent beneficiary bashing combined with scientific illiteracy is a powerful combination. And wrecked the lives of far too many people. And they were told.
From Radio New Zealand a year ago:
Housing New Zealand has ignored repeated warnings from senior government officials that it is misusing methamphetamine contamination guidelines to evict its tenants.
The Ministry of Health has repeatedly told Housing New Zealand that its methamphetamine guidelines were to be applied only for the clean up of former meth labs, and were not intended to monitor homes where the drug has been smoked.
Yet hundreds of tenants have been evicted from their state homes, after Housing New Zealand detected tiny traces of methamphetamine in them, and are often made to pay tens of thousands of dollars in clean up fees.
The ministry has just published new guidelines saying meth can be found at three to four times higher than the level being used as a reason to evict tenants.
Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said Housing New Zealand had caused a huge amount of harm by knowingly misusing the guidelines.
“Housing New Zealand have evicted people out of HNZ homes, out of social housing, they have blacklisted these tenants for 12 months and they knew these guidelines were wrong,” Mr Bell said.
“What do they do with the tenants that they’ve evicted, what do they do with the tenants who have been blacklisted, what do they do with the tenants who have been given $20,000 -$40,000 clean up bills?
“What are Housing New Zealand now going to do?”
What a difference a change of government makes. Now we have a Minister who understands the science, has human empathy and is also bewildered at the horrendous cost of methamphetamine testing that the last Government engaged in. A Minister who met with Robert Erueti who has suffered from significant health problems after being evicted after minuscule traces of methamphetamine were found in his Housing Corporation Flat and who has had to sleep rough for periods of time.
Again from Radio New Zealand:
Hundreds of Housing New Zealand properties have been left empty and millions squandered on methamphetamine testing, Housing Minister Phil Twyford says.
Mr Twyford apologised on Checkpoint with John Campbell today for the treatment of a man who spent 58 weeks in emergency housing in a motel – costing the government $44,000, after traces of methamphetamine were found in his home.
Mr Twyford pledged to make changes to the existing regime.
Last night Checkpoint reported that Robert Erueti was evicted from his state house where he lived for more than 15 years in February last year.
Mr Twyford said yesterday Mr Erueti should never have been evicted from his HNZ home.
“I wanted to tell him that Housing New Zealand are changing their policy and they are moving to a new approach for dealing with this issue that I think is more compassionate and more considered.”
The minister said if methamphetamine traces were found now support, not eviction, would be the first approach.
“Over the last three years Housing New Zealand, on behalf of the tax payer, has spent $75 million on testing and remediating houses that are or were allegedly contaminated.”
Mr Twyford said this had left hundreds of properties empty.
“Some 900 properties have been left vacant in the middle of a housing crisis on the basis of a methamphetamine contamination standard that cannot distinguish between a place that is genuinely contaminated from the manufacture of methamphetamine, and would endanger the health of someone living in that house, and an infinitesimally small residue that would pose no risk.”
He said a kind of moral panic over methamphetamine had taken hold.
“I think that has been drummed up and exploited by a meth testing industry that saw an opportunity to make a dollar.
“Put that together with the fact we had a standard that was patently not fit for purpose.”
Mr Twyford met Mr Erueti and his daughter Casey in Auckland and apologised.
“The eviction of Robert made his life immeasurably more difficult … I apologised to them on behalf of the government.”
This blog post from Russell Brown in August 2016 is remarkably prescient. He concludes with this passage which is as applicable now as it was then:
The real victims of this debacle are the Housing NZ tenants who lost their homes, often on the basis of no more than suspicion or gossip. As I note in the story, the corporation’s meth team went some pretty grim places with this problem – even “talking about” the idea of making universal drug tests a precondition of tenancy. They seem to have lost touch with Housing NZ’s role as a social agency.
I can’t be sure, but I suspect Housing NZ’s practice, at least as far as remediation goes, is already quietly changing. When I visited the Housing NZ flats in Greys Avenue a little over a month ago, I counted nine places boarded up up. There are only a couple now, and some of those opened have not been stripped out. Number 37, boarded up since March, is getting a paint job only. So needless cost may be being curbed now.
That will be of little comfort to those who have lost their homes and security. This is a story of how things get out of hand, and how moral panic and drug stigma lead us to make terrible decisions.
Well done Pbil Twyford, well done.