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NZ Herald: Housing NZ empties complex where tenant was murde

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  • NZ Herald: Housing NZ empties complex where tenant was murde

    From the Herald:

    Housing NZ empties complex where tenant was murdered
    Housing NZ empties complex where tenant was murdered

    01.04.2004
    By BRIDGET CARTER
    A block of rundown state flats where a murder took place has been closed after years of being labelled a hovel.

    The notorious Greenstone Gardens flats in Albert St, Otahuhu, were home to crossdresser George "Georgie Girl" Matehaere and his killer, Joe "Bucket" Coleman.

    Coleman was convicted this week of murder, after a five-day trial in the High Court at Auckland.

    The Gardens, a three-storey, concrete block building, was constructed in the 1960s as a motorway motel.

    Housing New Zealand bought the flats in 1975, and they have made headlines since for their squalor.

    Now abandoned, they have litter scattered outside, smashed windows, and a shopping trolley has rolled into the garage door.

    There are hints of rust along the rails of the balconies and behind the building is a long line of old or broken letterboxes.

    Ground-floor units and doors leading to the upstairs flats have been attacked with thick, black spraypaint. Housing New Zealand moved to close the complex after Mr Matehaere was murdered in December 2002, saying the conditions were substandard and that the flats were being upgraded.

    Several weeks ago, all existing tenants were moved elsewhere.

    Spokeswoman Marie Martin would not comment on where the tenants had moved to or the corporation's exact plans for the complex.

    But neighbours said they had been told that the flats would be gutted and transformed into three-bedroom flats for families.

    In the murder trial, witnesses gave evidence about life that day at Greenstone Gardens, where glue-sniffing and violence were reportedly commonplace.

    The problems reached a climax when a fuming "Bucket" Coleman came out of the flats carrying a baseball bat, saying to Georgie Girl that he had told him not to sniff glue, and dishing out a beating.

    Mr Matehaere died days later.

    The glue-sniffing was just one of a number of problems at the flats, said Mr Matehaere's aunty, Teaue Tanielu, who also lived at Greenstone Gardens.

    She said a woman was raped in a van outside. Another time, a wild party ended with all of the windows smashed.

    At the time of the murder, St John Ambulance staff would not go into the flats without a police escort because the complex was considered to be so dangerous.

    St John spokesman John Baker said about six other addresses in Auckland had "a caution" on them for staff, but he would not name them.

    Albert St resident Maria Hagglund said the complex was quite frightening because residents fought among themselves and police were called almost daily.

    "The families did not get on and I was quite worried about it," she said.

    One source, who did not want to be named, said the caretaker would get lumbered with caring for many people who were mentally ill and had been released into the community.

    "They used to knock on the door and say 'When's breakfast'. It wasn't their fault. They were sick people."

    While Labour was in opposition during the 1990s, it called for the flats to be knocked down.

    Michael Read, who has lived next to the Gardens for 14 years, said Labour had changed its mind and decided to do the flats up.

    "I think they should be knocked down myself."

    Housing NZ spokeswoman Ms Martin said the flats also suffered from poor ventilation and maintenance problems.

    The refurbishment, part of a general modernisation programme started three years ago, would begin in June and could take a year.

    Greenstone Gardens

    * The complex was built in the 1960s as a motorway motel.
    * In 1975, the flats were bought for state tenants and fell into squalor.
    * The last tenants were moved out several weeks ago.
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