Liz Filimoemaka on the bridge that stands between her neighbourhood and the new housing development in Wiri. (Photo: Justin Latif/Tina Tiller)

Bridging the divide: What will stop gentrification hurting South Auckland?

Thousands of new houses are set to be built in South Auckland over the next 10 years, but the gentrifying impact of this influx of new residents is raising concerns in the existing communities.

As Liz Filimoemaka crossed the bridge between her predominantly state housing community and a newly established development in Wiri, she noticed a Pākehā couple approaching with their Countdown shopping bags.

“I said, ‘Hi, how’s it going? Do you live around here?’, but the man just kept walking and gave me the rudest look and then he said ‘we’re moving here from the city’.

“I replied, ’have a good day’, and he just kept walking away.”

Seeing Pākehā around Wiri in South Auckland is a rare occurrence for Filimoemaka, so she had hoped to be a welcoming face to this new pair of residents. Instead she was left feeling like she was an unwelcome intrusion.

“I was quite sad – I actually teared up – by the way he just dismissed me like that.”

For Filimoemaka, Wiri isn’t just where she lives, but a place that forms her identity and gives her a sense of belonging.

“I love the people,” she says. ”There’s so much love that’s shared – whether that’s shown through giving, or whether it’s just connecting with people on the street. You can just start a conversation with anyone really easily. I love how our neighbours look out for each other, like if we have funerals or birthdays, people will drop food off to your house.”

The site at 20 Barrowcliffe Place in Manukau is being developed into a residential neighbourhood of up to 300 new homes. The development is now in the final stages from when this photo was taken. (Photo:Supplied)

Auckland Council’s development arm Panuku facilitated this piece of council land to be developed by a partnership including Te Ākitai Waiohua and Puhinui Park Ltd made up of the New Zealand Housing Foundation, Te Tumu Kainga and CORT Community Housing. The new 300-house community called Kōtuitui Place, is right next to where Filimoemaka lives,  and she says many in her neighbourhood have been hopeful about the potential to buy their own place.

“It’s cool the development is happening and what it might mean in terms of getting into affordable housing. But it seems the houses don’t cater to the large sizes of our families as most of the homes are two to three-bedroom, whereas people around here are living in five-bedroom standalone homes.”

Filimoemaka isn’t the only one concerned. Mason Ngawhika is the Māori responsiveness manager at The Cause Collective, a community-development agency based in South Auckland. He says South Auckland’s unique identity as the unofficial capital of Polynesia, due to having the world’s largest populations of Māori and Pasifika, is increasingly at risk due to developments like this.

“A whole new cohort of people are moving in there. When you do regeneration in areas like this, the question is, ‘who are you doing it for?’ International evidence would say you’re not doing it for the current residents. You’re potentially going to see what makes South Auckland so unique – that Māori and Pacific blend – come under threat because of gentrification.”

He says almost 100,000 houses are due to be built across South Auckland over the next 25 years, and the region could be drastically changed if government agencies don’t take steps now to reduce the impacts on existing communities.

“There needs to be much greater effort in supporting families, particularly for those families that home ownership is a real possibility [for]. For us at The Cause Collective, home ownership is a circuit breaker to generational poverty as it’s an asset that can be passed on.”

Auckland councillor Fa’anana Efeso Collins says while the need for more houses in the region is an imperative, it shouldn’t be at the expense of his culturally rich and diverse constituents.

“We have to make sure South Auckland’s existing communities aren’t pushed out in the name of progress and providing homes for middle-class buyers using Mum and Dad as their bank. South Auckland’s unique Pasifika and south-Asian populations bring so much to our region and their value to our city can’t be underestimated.”

Rachel Enosa is the chief executive of The Cause Collective and says the key is supporting the local populations into jobs so they can afford to stay in the places they grew up in.

“You have to create pathways for the local people, to work locally, and have that money going back into the local economy – instead of people coming in and earning their money here and taking it back to the North Shore, for example. That’s how we’re going to build South Auckland and have thriving communities that grow and nurture local talent.”

Ōtara-Papatoetoe Local Board chair Lotu Fuli says her board is consistently pushing council departments to use more local businesses – and she believes the message is slowly getting through.

“It’s a constant battle from our governance end as we have to push council officers to have confidence in the groups that are out there, and we know they can do that work. There’s very few Māori and Pacific construction or architectural groups on the council procurement list, but once they become part of that procurement list, it opens up the doors, and it’s got multifaceted benefits for our community.”

From left; The Cause Collective’s Mason Ngawhika and Rachel Enosa, Auckland councillor Fa’anana Efeso Collins and Ōtara-Papatoetoe Local Board chair Lotu Fuli

Enosa believes more also needs to be done to empower people to speak up for themselves.

“What we see in these communities is that the residents are just dealing with bread and butter issues of survival. They don’t have time to turn up to meetings and respond to letters, they just need to deal to their day-to-day lives. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s just not their lived reality. That’s why we’re putting a lot of investment into growing community champions who can speak out about what’s happening in the neighbourhood. The time is coming that public services need to change the way they engage with South Auckland, particularly with all this urban development happening around the area.”

As a resident of Wiri, with the development occurring on her doorstep, Filimoemaka says she’s also been frustrated by how locals have been communicated to regarding the development.

We usually get mail if there’s roadworks, but there’s been very little with this new development. I went along to an open day – I was one of the only brown faces there, and the person at the front was talking about how this place was going to be all about connecting communities. He was really preaching it, so I asked a question, ‘if you’re all about connecting communities, why don’t you connect with the current community?’ and he just shrugged it off, and he tried to refer me to someone else.”

While Panuku isn’t responsible for how the development has been advertised to the local community, Panuku Development’s priority location director Richard Davison says the council-controlled organisation has undertaken a number of projects to improve connections for the local community and renew the urban environment, including Barrowcliffe Bridge, the new Wiri Playground, and Barrowcliffe Pond Pathway.

“One of our priorities is to increase the number of available homes in Auckland, particularly homes more people can afford and homes for the elderly. To do this we work closely with communities, mana whenua, other partners in the private sector, the crown and community housing organisations to facilitate good development outcomes. We don’t physically build housing ourselves, but we work with all parties to ensure that the development of council land will meet the varied needs of the community it is a part of. Our core regeneration work is creating inclusive and accessible town centres which contribute to the vitality of a neighbourhood, focusing on upgrading public spaces such as parks, playgrounds, cycling paths and streets.  Panuku also supports local social enterprises and entrepreneurs through activity such as The Papatoetoe Food Hub, The Kitchen Project, and Te Haa O Manukau (a partnership with Panuku, The Southern Initiative and ATEED) which is operated by Ngahere Communities.”

And he says buyers will be able to access more affordable houses through a range of home ownership schemes.

“Kōtuitui Place contributes to the wider Manukau Framework Plan and our Transform Manukau urban regeneration activity for central Manukau, and will provide a range of dwellings from one-bedroom apartments to four-bedroom houses. At least 50% will be sold under an affordable housing scheme and there will be a range of purchase models including rent-to-buy and shared equity to help ensure affordability.

“Transform Manukau is an ambitious 20-plus-year programme of change, designed to cater for a growth in population from 6,000 to 20,000. We’re working closely with Manukau communities as it’s the involvement of local people that will lead Manukau to its true transformation as the thriving heart of the south.”

For Filimoemaka, all she wants is for the new people coming into her suburb to make an effort to connect, starting with saying ‘hi’ on the bridge.

“It would be awesome to connect – like genuine connection, not just tick boxes, but show us they actually care.”

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