Elderly: why have we been abandoned?

Posted 24 Jun 2012 by MediaStuff Popular
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The pain of the situation is evident for Vern Tie at a meeting for former retirement villagers with Lianne Dalziel to present a petition to seek protection for red zone retirement village residents.
Iain McGregor

The pain of the situation is evident for Vern Tie at a meeting for former retirement villagers with Lianne Dalziel to present a petition to seek protection for red zone retirement village residents.




Christchurch residents who lived through World War II were never downhearted in the face of Nazi bombs, but earthquake bureaucracy has broken their spirit now.

The displaced occupants of retirement villages in the red zone feel they have been abandoned by the Government.

Before the earthquake, former Londoner Barbara Powell lived in the pleasant Kate Sheppard Retirement Village, but the 82-year-old now rents a chilly Rangiora flat.

In World War II her London home near Woolwich Arsenal was bombed out, but at least she knew when the bombers were coming, she says, and her sense of hope never faded, as it has now.

Having paid $240,000 for the right to live indefinitely in the retirement village, she got back just $204,000 because of a Government cock-up in 2008 that nobody will accept responsibility for.

Many more retirees who do not own their units in the village are ineligible for inclusion in the red- zone scheme, which was established to buy homes at 2007 rateable values so homeowners can move on and rebuild their lives.

Pleas by Grey Power to the Government to extend the scheme to include them have so far come to nothing, despite the precarious position many have been reduced to, and lobbying by Labour, Green and NZ First MPs.

The money Powell got back - a year after being forced to leave the village - is not enough to buy a place in another retirement village, even with special offers of interest- free loans some villages have made.

Like many of the former residents, she's found herself in unsuitable rented accommodation, feeling isolated and forgotten, and trying not to think about rent increases and the threat of being asked to move on. "I try to never give up hope, but things are pretty dismal," says Powell, whose pre- retirement volunteering included working with crime victims and families left mourning after losing loved ones to cancer.

"I think of all the things I have done in my life, and what have I come down to? I own nothing. What's going to become of me?" she says.

"It's not just the fact that we have lost our homes, it's what it has done to us mentally. I won't go to bed now without a nightlight on. I have nightmares. I wake up and I'm not sure whether I dreamt an earthquake, or whether there really was another one."

Powell was bombed out five times during the war, and recalls living in a home with a tarpaulin for a roof. "This is like the war. You're always waiting for something to happen. At least when the bombers were coming, you got a warning."

But what's different is that during and after the war everybody pulled together, and the elderly were not left to fend for themselves. "I often say although it was terribly hard and sad, people always had something to laugh about. But that was then."

Ron Gibbs, 90, did a stint as an air raid warden in London, and the irony of a life bookended by cities reduced to rubble hasn't escaped him.

He's in a flat in Kaiapoi and the rent is slowly consuming the capital he got back after being forced out of Kate Sheppard. But typically for a man of his generation, he is more concerned for others, particularly those who bought their units many years ago.

In a retirement village all the capital gains go to the village owner, so those who bought only rights to occupy years ago got back far less than they needed to buy into another village.

"Some people were there for years, and have come out with $100,000. You can't get anywhere for that," said Gibbs. He got back $220,000 of the $260,000 he paid in 2010 - $40,000 for what he calls a short stay. "There should be some help, because very few of these people are coping, and many are widows. I take life day by day now. I don't think about the future. We can't move on."

Having received the money, he's had to pay more than $3000 a month for his wife's dementia ward care. It won't be a problem much longer - his capital has dwindled by so much that Work and Income says he won't have to keep paying.

But he'll still have to dig into his money to live, and fear of it running out is terrible. "I have enough to keep me for five years, but after that?"

Grey Power's Bill Atkinson won an audience this year with Earthquake Minister Gerry Brownlee, and asked for the elderly to be treated as homeowners under the red-zone scheme. But it's not going to happen.

"The Crown's offer was established for the purchase of residential property, and can therefore only apply to the owners," Brownlee says. "It can't be applied to those who have purchased a right to occupy, such as in rest homes and retirement villages. I have sympathy for all those who have had to leave their homes and find new accommodation in trying circumstances, and I acknowledge that for retirement village residents the process is more unsettling."

But Atkinson says residents "bought" their homes and paid insurance, and being shut out of the scheme - unlike village business owners - is morally wrong. And he can't get over the fact that despite a warning from the Retirement Commission, a change to the Retirement Villages Code in 2008 ended the right of residents to get all their money back in circumstances such as an earthquake.

The change, which no one admits to having lobbied for, allowed village owners to deduct a "deferred management fee" as part of every contract.

Atkinson hails from Oxford in the UK, where he lied about his age so he could run messages for Civil Defence during the war. He still has the scar from the shrapnel wound he suffered to his hand when he was blown off his bike carrying one message.

"I knew that when I died, or if I chose to leave the village, they would take a certain amount, but I don't think I should be penalised for an earthquake."

Even those who could afford a new home are bitter.

Helen and Warwick Hayes, both in their 80s, were Kate Sheppard residents from 2001, when they paid $174,000. They got back about $130,000 and used it to buy a small place in Shirley, to give themselves certainty and stop the rental drain. "We spent every last penny, but we couldn't keep on paying $300 a week rent," Helen says.

A last-ditch attempt to get the red-zone scheme extended is under way. On Friday, Labour's Christchurch East MP Lianne Dalziel was presented with a petition signed by Grey Power board members on behalf of their 65,000 members, pleading for the Government to act. Dalziel says the Government has shown it can change, and it could if it wanted to.

Is there hope? Auckland businessman Alan Flitcroft, whose mother was at Kate Sheppard but now lives in a rented flat he helps pay for, doesn't think the Government is listening. "I'm sorry to say I have given up hope. They know the problem is rapidly dying off. They have got no moral feeling at all."


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