Sunday: Thud, thud, thud – kids stop that!
Thud, thud, thud – high winds, but gas cylinders aren’t empty, loose, or bumping against the house.
Thud, thud, thud – TV aerial the size of an antelope hangs from the second-storey roof of our house, banging on the wall in the wind. It’s inches above our large lounge and dining windows, and likely to come through rather dramatically if it drops any further.
I call Housing NZ (much gratitude, by the way. We are not homeless, and we have a lovely house). Having said that…
Wednesday: The TV trident of the gods now hangs precariously, only supported by its internal cable, over my backyard much like a modern day Sword of Damocles. As I hang out my washing I decide that if it falls I shall leap under my clothesline in the hopes that it will save me.
The Dunedin Housing Maintenance Serviceman who calls in disagrees. But he’s only there for a scheduled smoke alarm check. No job for this on the books, he says. Call them again. That’s dangerous.
So I do.
The job has been cancelled they tell me. We don’t do TV aerials.
Okay. But this is scary-arse shit. And there’s a hole in my roof.
But we don’t do aerials.
But it was here when I moved in. I’m paying for the house to be maintained as it was when I moved in.
But there are no ‘exclusions’ on my lease.
By now I’m talking to my Tenancy Manager (who I’ve never even met before), who explains that since NZ TV went digital a few months ago HNZC no longer maintain aerials.
But its not my aerial. And the fact that NZ went digital is circumstantial. There was a digital aerial up there already.
But you’ve been there two years now, so its your responsibility.
Okay, that thing has been corroding, obviously unmaintained, for about 20 years. It has rusted away to the point that it is hanging over my back (and only) yard, and it is likely to fall and pierce one of my children like a javelin with forked prongs.
It is a luxury item. We don’t do aerials.
I wasn’t even considering the ending of our indulgence as TV watchers. However I think it is nice if poor people who are unable to provide movies, video rentals, or paid entertainment for their families are able to watch a bit of ‘free’ TV. What is an $80 dollar repair to HNZC’s own property is actually 80% of my families weekly grocery bill.
It is a luxury item. We don’t do aerials.
Do what you want.
Anyway, we’re coming to cut it off. Now.
Oh no you’re not.
Yes we are. It’s our property. We’re coming to cut it off.
I’m refusing you entry. This is my home. I rent it.
We can’t leave it hanging there. It’s a Health & Safety issue.
I need to escalate this. Who is the Manager above you?
He tells me the Area Manager’s name but declines to give me her direct dial number.
Okay. Who is above her?
So, I spend Wednesday afternoon barricading my driveway to Housing NZ workers, while I phone the daily newspaper. A very helpful reporter and photographer take time out to photograph Sad Family beneath the Aerial of Doom.
Angry Mama of Sad Family is now also fearful of being evicted by invisible Tenancy Manager on any whim or sniff. When you are poor your survival is in the hands of people who may not like you, and sometimes have bad days.
The fact that I have worked my entire life up until this point is of course irrelevant. Having paid my taxes, and rates, for 25 years before becoming a bludger and a national liability mean nothing, because that will never happen to anyone else. They obviously try harder than I did.
When you are poor there are individuals who thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to seize their moment of power at your expense. That may be the only powerful moment they ever get. Often they are underpaid themselves. Many of these individuals are attracted to middle management positions of minutiae power, where they have control over the lives of others, and their future direction, at the stroke of a pen or the strike of a button. These people are called sociopaths, or more colloquially, facetious bastards. And they’re not as rare as you might think.
However, in the interim, Intrepid Reporter does need to get both sides of the story. So he makes enquiries with Housing NZ.
Within half an hour there is a knock on my door. It is the Otago Area Manager of Housing NZ. Very nice she is too.
Friday: I have no hole in my roof. I have a functional digital aerial. My children can watch TV.
And rational fear of impalement in my backyard is at an end.
Fair? I think so. The outcome for me at least. Disappointing for the reporter who gave his time and work and lost his story when it was likely his involvement that turned the situation.
But I did wish the story could have gone ahead.
Not all tenants are as loud or obnoxious as me. Not all have words. Or life experience. Some (by the time you have come into paupers housing) are just plain tired. We all have a myriad of bureaucratic hurdles to leap on a regular and stressful basis. Not every single mother wants to barricade her own driveway when she has things she needs to be doing for her children or her work situation.
I just wanted the opportunity to let y’all know,
never ever EVER give up.