Jazial Crossley grew up in Auckland in the ’80s, the daughter of a teenage solo mother who spent her early years on the DPB. In this essay for the War for Auckland project, she describes her childhood, and wonders what might have happened to her had she been born today.
When I was growing up in Auckland in the ’80s, Ponsonby Rd was an eclectic strip with grit. It was an affordable place, where my teenage single mother and I could live comfortably-ish subsisting on the DPB.
We rented 243 Ponsonby Rd with another single parent and her three kids. The villa was desperately in need of renovation. We couldn’t afford curtains, but old sheets pinned across the sash windows provided privacy from pedestrians.
The house had broad steps and a small patch of grass in front where we’d hang out during summer. The guys who worked next door at Joe’s Bargain House would often chat to my mum as they went past shifting mattresses and rolls of carpet. We owned very little, but possessed a strong sense of place in the community. Now, that house we rented has an RV of $1.54 million. Joe’s Bargain House has become a fucking Lululemon.
Where do the dramatic changes in Auckland’s population, housing and transport during my lifetime leave the kids like me, who have only one parent, who have barely enough money to scrape by?
Living in Auckland on the breadline 30 years ago wasn’t easy, but for us it was never awful because the city provided so much enjoyment and entertainment.
We moved many times – Ponsonby, Onehunga, Mt Eden, Laingholm, Beachhaven, Gillies Ave, Royal Oak, Mt Albert, Takapuna, Birkdale, One Tree Hill and more. I lived in about 30 places by the time I was 13. We didn’t have a lot at home. The city, though, she was always wonderful. For me, and for my mum.
Even on bad days we could always go to Piha and swim in the wild ocean. When our Oranga flat was burgled and they even took the washing machine with clothes in it, the house – including my bedroom – was a heartbreaking mess. But we could still go to the free Auckland Art Gallery and gaze at breathtakingly beautiful, very expensive paintings. We could still go to Café Cezanne at Three Lamps and spend our last few dollars on a cappuccino and a hot chocolate that we would take two hours to drink until we felt better.
We could go to the Domain and watch the ducks swish their feathery butts through the pond. No matter what – no matter what! – we could always go to the Winter Garden. I could heave myself down the huge blue slide at Cornwall Park or we could walk through Western Springs. The grandeur of the War Memorial Museum always welcomed us when we wished to wander around. The libraries never let me down.
All that good stuff, the free enrichment open to everyone no matter their income, is still there. But with housing devouring an ever-larger slice of income, and affordable suburbs now so much further out, is it all still as accessible? The experience of kids in my position these days must be very different.
My hometown has transformed into a bustling international city. There are so many more people and there is such vibrancy. It’s fantastic – if you can afford it. Those who have the money to enjoy Auckland are currently having a blast, those who don’t are sleeping in cars. Most Aucklanders are somewhere in between and somewhat anxious, like my friends who have had their rent put up three times in the past year.
Imagining the life my mum and I might have lived in Auckland now, today, with its sky high and ever-climbing rents, makes me shudder.
If we were in the situation now that we were then, would we be living in a car or someone’s garage? Probably. We certainly wouldn’t be living in Ponsonby. Would we have been able to afford transport into town, or out to Piha to soothe stress? That seems unlikely – even back then, there were dark times when we couldn’t afford basic necessities. Then if the car needs to get fixed or you need new shoes, where does that money come from?
As a ‘vulnerable’ child, you miss out on so much. You can’t afford to be a Brownie like every other girl in your class. You can’t take music lessons or join sports teams that require equipment, uniforms and transport to games. Frankly, when you’re trying to survive there isn’t a whole lot of room in your heart for dashing about on a netball court just for fun anyway. If you’ve got a single parent on a benefit, your school will forbid you from going on class camps because you can’t afford to pay the annual ‘donation’, in my experience. You miss out on technology – if we couldn’t afford a telephone in the ‘80s, I don’t think many single parents today have computers and broadband. Today, you would be more likely to miss out on a safe, warm, dry roof over your head: there aren’t enough safe, warm, dry roofs in Auckland to go around.
I’m worried the kids with as little as I had are even worse off now than I was.
Auckland’s lack of affordable homes has made more of its suburbs effectively gated communities – not made exclusive by gates you can physically see, but by financial barriers that create a greater class divide. You don’t earn $150k a year to cover the mortgage? This area’s not for you. That has always been the case – but lately house price inflation has made what was once a situation isolated to certain suburbs a citywide phenomenon.
Auckland doesn’t seem such a swell place for its citizens who are struggling. Increased density with a range of housing options would provide more Aucklanders with a place in the community. It would provide more kids with homes – which they deserve, regardless of their parents’ financial situation.
Auckland must plan for its less fortunate, and the Unitary Plan seems to do that. The zones it describes promise to “provide for a mix of housing types, ranging from a house in a coastal settlement, to a single detached house on a suburban section, to an apartment near a metropolitan centre” (Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan, Chapter D, 1). More types of housing for more Auckland families of different income levels: sounds good to me.
Auckland was a great city for me to grow up in, despite being broke. Combined with my mother’s ferocious optimism, Auckland’s beaches, parks and free cultural offerings were my salvation. My mum was and is an amazing, inspiring, strong woman who cared for me well despite our limited budget. I’m incredibly lucky to have such a young, fiercely independent feminist who loved The Cure for my parent. Shopping for secondhand clothes could have been a sad trawl through cast-offs, but her love of fashion and bright spirit made it a treasure hunt. I wouldn’t wish any other life for myself. I acknowledge we may have had it easier in some ways than other beneficiaries because I’m healthy, Pākehā, learned easily at school and am an only child. Our family situation improved, my mum bravely educated herself and had the tenacity to start from the bottom up in the workplace when I was older. We were still skint, then, but stable. Any lack I’ve experienced has only served to harden the resolve that drives me in my career.
Full disclosure: I no longer live in Auckland. My partner (another born and raised Aucklander) and I relocated to Wellington several years ago. We came for great jobs and stayed when we realised we could afford to build a house in the capital. Still, nowhere feels like home as much as Ponsonby. When I’m there, I see the street’s history and its layers, my own history and so many memories. I lived there as a small child and as a young woman, but probably never will again. That’s somewhat sad but I accept things change. In the wise words of Nick Cave (from the song ‘Jesus of the Moon’):
“…people often say they’re scared of change
But for me, I’m more afraid of things staying the same
Because the game is never won by standing in any one place for too long”
Aucklanders are facing big changes and decisions about their future. Some, with the most agency, oppose increased density and have been very vocal about it. Younger Aucklanders want different things: I’d happily live in an apartment with a balcony, near a park and close to public transport, if I were to move back.
I hope the experience, lifestyle and fate of Aucklanders of all income levels are being considered as closely as the happiness of couples who can afford four bedroom homes in Panmure. I hope that more Auckland kids on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale – those currently being housed in cars and garages, or crammed into damp and dingey homes – get the chance to enjoy a new city as much as I did the old.