Anne Gibson

Property editor of the NZ Herald

Developers fight to house citizens

Long Bay project cited as example where environmental factors were put ahead of people's needs

Hobsonville Land Company chief executive Chris Aitken. Photo / Dean Purcell
Hobsonville Land Company chief executive Chris Aitken. Photo / Dean Purcell

Developer Evan Davies is behind Auckland's biggest housing push.

But the battle took its toll and has left him disillusioned at times.

As Todd Property Group chief executive, his team is putting up 5300 houses on two sites. Most advanced is Stonefields, Mt Wellington, an 110ha $2 billion development for 2600 houses/apartments accommodating 6500 people.

Building is now starting at Long Bay on the North Shore where 2700 households are being created for about 7000 people.

But Davies cites the controversial Long Bay project as an example of a development where environmental factors were put ahead of people's housing needs.

The struggle to begin there showed precisely why the city is crying out for more housing, he says.

Planning for the estate began in about 1998 but work did not start until last year, showing the almost insurmountable difficulty of creating housing in a city desperate for more supply and with generations of future residents facing renting, he claims.

No Government money is involved in either of the projects.

Towards the west, Hobsonville Land Company chief executive Chris Aitken is in charge of building 3000 residences. Seventeen state-subsidised Gateway houses were built in a nod to affordability, but the project is in the hands of private enterprise.

A subsidiary of Housing NZ Corporation owns the land and under a previous Labour government, the estate was to be a big state housing project. Instead, the old air force base is being transformed into an upmarket zone where houses can command premiums. Universal Homes has sold 12 houses for $555,000 to $630,000 and landlords expect up to $1000 a week from some places. Work started last month on a $2.85 million ferry terminal at Hobsonville, making it even more desirable.

But Aitken said places were affordable.

The quality of development should not give the impression the new estate was elite.

"Our fantastic infrastructure and beautiful natural location does make Hobsonville Pt upmarket, but across the development there'll be refurbished and new homes that a wide range of Kiwi families can afford," he said.

Long Bay and Stonefields are aiming at the middle to upper quartile of the market but even a unit in Stonefields' 44-unit Saltus block has been in the $650,000 range and higher.

So what role do developers and builders play in the housing affordability debacle? Government officials have this year consulted the largest house builders, wanting to know exactly what was stopping them putting up big swathes of new housing, particularly aimed at the more affordable end.

Finance Minister Bill English knows the issues well.

"The prices you pay for a house are ridiculous and they look that way to 24-year-olds with lots of student debt and the prospect of better pay in Australia," he said.

And he must have noticed Long Bay, Stonefields and Hobsonville prices too.

"The most unfair aspect of it is that there's no housing being built for people in the lowest quartile of income. Like none," English said. "That is clearly unsustainable. If we want to get back to surplus and keep it there, we cannot afford to have the Government providing growing subsidies to a housing market that then flows into high levels of debt.

"That cycle does not make sense and we intend to break it."

Quite how English will achieve this is yet to be revealed.

- NZ Herald

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