Selwyn residents fighting for homes after being told they need to leave them by 2039

Selwyn Huts resident Kirrily Fea. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

This article was first published by RNZ.

Residents of a small Selwyn community say they will keep fighting to save their homes after being told they must vacate them by 2039.

The district council last month voted to confirm the eviction of the entire Upper Selwyn Huts settlement on the shores of Lake Ellesmere because of the predicted impact of climate change.

A public meeting is being held on Tuesday night at the Springston South Soldiers Memorial Hall for residents to give their feedback on the new draft deed of licence.

Kirrily Fea said the eviction date had been devastating for her and the close-knit community of about 100.

She had been living at the Upper Selwyn Huts since 2019 and thought it would be her forever home.

“There’s families that thought they’d be passing it down to their children, but there’s a lot of elderly here as well. If they live past the maximum 15 years then they’ll have to find affordable, alternative accommodation during a housing crisis, in the last few years of their life.”

Fea said older residents were stressed and could not afford to buy a home anywhere else.

Selwyn Huts residents Cara, Nikau and Dan Tengaru. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Cara Te Ngaru, who lived in the huts with her husband and son, said council consultation and communication with the community had been inadequate and people felt let down.

“We’re trying to get an understanding of where they’re coming from and we’re just hitting brick walls, and we’re talking about people’s life savings and what we’ve been working towards for a decade to leave behind for our children.”

The Upper Selwyn Huts were on Crown land and managed by Selwyn District Council.

Climate change was the main reason for the council’s eviction notice, with modelling showing rising sea and lake levels might put the settlement at risk.

Nearby Greenpark Huts would be vacated by the end of June this year for similar reasons, while the Lower Selwyn Huts have until 2034.

Fea said people were given no warning, which had been the hardest thing.

“It’s come out of the blue and the reasons they’re giving us, they don’t justify the 15 years maximum.”

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Fea said residents would be urging the council at the public meeting to reconsider its decision - ideally they would like 30 years before they have to leave.

The council’s report said delaying eviction for 20 years or more was not recommended, partly because of the greater risk that climate-related weather events would pose to health and safety.

Fea said people wanted more time.

“If climate change is going to affect us here we should be leaving when it actually starts to affect us. It hasn’t affected us yet and the modelling says it won’t affect us for 25 years.”

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Selwyn District Council executive director enabling services Tim Harris said council had signalled in 2019 that hut licences would be for a finite period because of the risks and costs to people living there.

The timing was in line with other lakeside hut communities around Lake Ellesmere.

“We understand this is a difficult time for the hut community as we work through this with them.”