Fleas in the carpet, damp and rot: Young family with newborn want out of flat


Fawzia Rahimi with her 12-day-old baby, Elia Ayoubi. She has been staying at her parents' rather than return to their damp council flat.

ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF

Fawzia Rahimi with her 12-day-old baby, Elia Ayoubi. She has been staying at her parents’ rather than return to their damp council flat.

When Fawzia Rahimi, 26, first moved to her council unit two years ago she noticed fleas jumping around her baby’s face. 

“The carpets were full of fleas. It cost us a lot of money to clean the carpets and kill the fleas.”

But the fleas were the least of her problems.

Akbar Ayoubi with his sons Zacharia Ayoubi, 3, and Elia Ayoubi, who is weeks old, in their uninsulated Christchurch social housing flat.

ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF

Akbar Ayoubi with his sons Zacharia Ayoubi, 3, and Elia Ayoubi, who is weeks old, in their uninsulated Christchurch social housing flat.

Rahimi, her husband Akbar Ayoubi and now 3-year-old son, Zacharia, have lived through three winters in the unit and dread another. 

READ MORE:
* Christchurch’s social housing upgrades off to slow start
* Christchurch mayor makes replacement social housing a re-election promise
* New Christchurch social housing units 10 years away if insulation fast-tracked

Now two-week-old Elia has arrived, they are stressed about him living in the cold, damp unit. 

Mould around a bedroom window - and this is in summer.

ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF

Mould around a bedroom window – and this is in summer.

“It’s very cold and wet. The floor is so cold it feels like it’s wet,” Rahimi said.  

Ayoubi earns $18 an hour as a kitchen hand and the family cannot afford to rent privately. 

The two-bedroom Linwood unit at Haast Courts is one of 909 social housing units owned by the Christchurch City Council and managed by Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust (OCHT) which are exempted from minimum floor and ceiling insulation standards.

The kitchen has no extractor fan. When the family moved in there were fleas in the carpet.

ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF

The kitchen has no extractor fan. When the family moved in there were fleas in the carpet.

Rahimi’s ground floor unit has a concrete foundation and walls, with a unit above, making it impossible to retrofit floor or ceiling insulation. 

The only heating is an electric Scope fan heater attached to the wall. Using it increases the condensation. 

The kitchen has no extractor fan.

CHRIS SKELTON/STUFF

Concord Place resident Charlie Betts, 81, is fed up at the lack of maintenance and insulation in his unit, which is owned by the Christchurch City Council and managed by the Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust. (Video first published in July 2019)

Last winter Rahimi, who moved to New Zealand from Afghanistan as a refugee with her family when she was a girl, was prescribed an inhaler for suspected asthma and Zacharia was constantly sick with colds.

Using the stove top or running hot water in the kitchen created a flow of condensation as far as the adjoining living room.

A laundry cupboard in the bathroom was rotten and seemed to be the source of a bad smell.

Eventually a broken pipe from the unit above was identified as the problem and the cupboard was replaced. 

That was after months of Rahimi raising it with the tenancy manager, she says. 

Condensation had rotted carpet under the windows in both bedrooms when the family arrived.

It was replaced months later. 

Clean and dry clothes became mouldy after only a few days in the cupboard.  

“I want to move from this house because of my kids. It’s a house, it is a roof on top of us – but it is not safe for my kids.”

The family applied to OCHT and the Ministry of Social Development in October 2017 to transfer to a warmer unit, with support from the family GP.

“Please consider either making the house less damp by extraction/heat pump/insulation as required or consider re-housing this family on the grounds of Fawzia’s very significant depression which is in part due to the state of her accommodation,” Piki Te Ora GP Alison Wooding wrote. 

They received no response from OCHT and Housing New Zealand turned them down because they were already in a home. It was up to OCHT to address the unit defects, HNZ said.  

OCHT chief executive Cate Kearney said Rahimi had raised two “maintenance issues of note”. Concerns about the condition of the carpet in the bedrooms were raised on October 2018 and the carpet was replaced on February 8, 2019. 

“The trust is aware that this matter could have been dealt with in a more timely manner and apologise to the tenants for the unfortunate delay.”

Rahimi told the tenancy manager about a leaking pipe in the ceiling of her unit on January 16, 2019 and the repair took place the following day, Kearney said. 

The trust had no record of an application to transfer to another unit since the family had moved to Haast Courts. 

In September, following media attention, the former council voted to loan $10m towards urgent upgrades for the exempted units – including installing heat pumps and ventilation by winter, and adding insulation where possible by the end of the year. 

At the time, Mayor Lianne Dalziel said the state of the units represented “a failure” by the authority. 

However, the timeframe for the heat pump and ventilation work has slipped, and Haast Courts is not in the priority group. 

Rahimi said she hoped a heat pump would be installed in her home by winter, but would not be surprised if it did not eventuate.