In the ‘90s, state houses were being sold as part of the market-oriented reforms and the remaining housing stock was rented at market rates. Combined with the cuts to social welfare benefits in 1991, this meant that state houses in affluent suburbs were no longer affordable for many tenants. In some cases entire streets were sold, subdivided, and transformed from modest post-WW2 state houses for low-income earners to large, monolithic clad homes for the wealthy. Two notable examples are Madeleine Avenue and Esperance Road. Over 160 homes were demolished, developed, and sold to individuals who wanted to live in the middle-class suburb of Glendowie.
Before they were transformed into mini mansions for the middle-classes, Esperance and Mad Ave (as they were known back then) were buzzing with activity from working-class families who had established roots in the area. I used to live near these two streets and many of the students from a nearby school I attended lived there. After school, we would head down to Crossfield Reserve, skateboard on an old, 70’s-style concrete skate bowl and line-up to use a popular mud slide, which was covered by flax bushes that grew on a bank parallel to Esperance. By the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Esperance and Mad Ave were a bit rough around the edges, but this helped give these streets character and a distinct identity compared to the rest of Glendowie, which was trying to be like its wealthier sister suburb, St. Heliers.
When all of the state houses on these two streets were demolished I used to think about where the residents moved to and what consequences it would have on the local community. One immediate impact was that the roll at my old school declined. This was a big issue for the local schools that relied on enrolments from working-class families. The incoming middle class families did not see the low decile schools in the nearby suburb of Glen Innes as suitable options for their children and, instead, sent them to private schools or the high decile schools in Glendowie and St. Heliers.
The other consequence was that Glendowie became a very different place. Large Mediterranean style houses with large fences and electronic gates discouraged outdoor interaction. As a consequence, no one seems to be around anymore. There are no more wondering dogs, no children playing on the sidewalk, no more front yard gardens. You occasionally see a person jogging or an electronic garage door opening, but it’s no longer the same place. Madeleine Ave was changed to Mt Taylor Drive to try and change people’s perceptions of it as a state housing area.
It is easy living for the new home owners, but I always wondered what happened to the old residents. It wasn’t so easy for the people who had established roots in the area. The dislocation of residents raises big issues around the meaning of community and the right to live in a particular area. As a million dollar city, the short-term strategy of selling state houses in the 1990s was an early sign of the current housing problems in Auckland and the current round of state housing privatisation in Glen Innes and Tāmaki via social housing programmes. While Tāmaki was seen as an affordable area in the 1990s and 2000s, it is now unaffordable for many low-income earners as the average house price nears the million dollar mark.