New Zealand Partnership Houses Women

By Desmond, Pip | Women and Environments, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

New Zealand Partnership Houses Women


Desmond, Pip, Women and Environments


"We work with groups of women to help them help themselves. It's about honouring what people know, having confidence in their ability to find solutions, not deciding what's best for them," according to Housing for Women Trust co-ordinators Gill Palmer and Pat Payne. They see their work with women who need housing as a partnership. The trust does not work on the charity model, they say.

The trust offers a variety of services to women with housing needs (see box). "The way we work in partnership with women is probably most clear in our workshops," Pat says. "We start by asking women why they are there and what the issues are for them. Then we decide on the main concerns as a group and work on those together." Each workshops is made up of about eight two-hour sessions. Child care is free and the five dollar fee covers photocopying of workbooks.

Partnership is also a feature of the trust's housing arrangements. At first the trust ran three houses as shared rental accommodation for women. One was bought by a private sponsor and another with a 100 per cent loan from the Ministry of Women's Affairs. The last of these houses was sold in 1992. The trust now favours setting up cohousing, where women live in separate units but operate as a self-managing community. A family motel with eight units, bought in 1991, was the first attempt at co-housing. "It worked really well in the financial sense," Gill says. "Because the units did not have separate titles, we only needed one deposit. The group of women who wanted to move in were able to pool their money to cover the deposit; two women without any deposit at all were able to come in."

In other ways, though, there were problems with this early partnership. "The venture was a huge learning experience in group dynamics and living together as a group," Gill says. "We had a certain naivety that women could work together and talk things through. When that didn't work we didn't have clear steps to rectify the situation. In the end, one group moved out. Legally, we are breaking new ground with our approach to .collective housing. What we learned from this experience is that the legal aspects are very important. Clarity about the roles of individuals and the trust is essential and both parties must have equal power. As workers, we don't have a legal background, so we need not just a partnership with women, but with lawyers as well."

In the past, the trust has focused on ownership because originally the women it worked most closely with were older, single women for whom security of tenure and building some equity in a property was just as important as living with like-minded women. We're now finding that younger women, especially those parenting alone, are contacting us. In their situation, the flexibility of affordable; clean, safe rental accommodation is exactly what they are looking for. A rental home can provide a supportive "breathing space" after getting out of a. relationship. It can be exchanged for a larger version when another child is born and somebody else takes care of its maintenance while a woman's life is busy with child care. The Trust hopes to work towards separate titles for the motel units. Three have been sold and another will be sold shortly. This is part of a general move towards buying properties which in the shortterm meet the needs of women wanting to rent in a safe, secure space and in the long-term can be sold to women who otherwise would never be able to afford their own house.

"Our aim is to keep on selling and moving on," Gill says. …

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