Housing partnerships provide golden opportunity

By Matthew Heal

State housing in the Auckland suburb of Sandringham. Photo / NZ Herald
State housing in the Auckland suburb of Sandringham. Photo / NZ Herald

The Housing Accord and the formation of the Housing Project Office signals a new intention to move ahead with development at pace, and there is growing energy to explore new partnerships to deliver world-class outcomes.

Auckland has nearly 30,000 state homes. The cost of maintaining and upgrading these homes - and increasing their overall number - cannot be funded by the public sector alone. Hence there is a need for innovative funding and investment models to ensure the unprecedented demand for affordable, well-designed, quality homes for Aucklanders is met.

Community housing providers present a "golden opportunity" for New Zealand. It is time to change the way we think about social housing, and tenants, in order to build on successful housing programmes of the past, and to create a stronger, more diverse and accepting society.

In Britain in the 1970s, the affordable housing sector shared many similarities with New Zealand, and indeed our Australian neighbours. Funding began to trickle through, which led to steady growth.

The introduction of the 1988 Housing Act in the UK created an opportunity for private finance to be leveraged into housing association developments.

The Act introduced a new commerciality around the "not-for-profit" sector in England.

Today, Britain'ss mature community housing sector has levered in excess of 40 billion into the delivery of social housing, affordable housing and urban renewal, all without any financial default. When contrasted with the huge banking losses suffered during the global financial crisis within Britain, Europe and beyond, this low-risk conduit for investment by the private sector is further accentuated and presents, potentially at least, a bright future for New Zealand investors.

Housing associations in Britain now provide two million affordable and social homes for more than five million people. In recent times this growth has led to a concentration of development funding to a small pool of housing associations, to ensure development efficiency and buying power as well as the harnessing of skilled staff who are committed to the delivery of "a vision".

The UK "not-for-profit" housing sector (and, more recently, its equivalent in Australia) has demonstrated that investment via a housing association has the potential to provide locally accountable, well managed and sustainably-funded housing.

So what can we apply in the context of Auckland's social housing challenge?

Developing local solutions requires early stakeholder buy-in and an engaging and consultative approach. Careful selection of partners and opportunities is fundamental to delivering successful projects that are welcomed by the community.

There's an increasing need for a conduit between central and local government policy makers on one side, and the developers, funders, designers, contractors and operators in the market place on the other, to ensure the third sector receives the support it requires to develop.

Look forward 20 years: will we have made a positive lasting legacy through partnering to deliver world-class, community-focused outcomes? Or will housing diversity continue to worsen? Will Auckland enjoy the benefits of capitalising on this "golden opportunity" to have a bi-partisan, not-for-profit sector that increases in scale to enable further partnerships with Housing New Zealand and the private sector?

Not-for-profits are not competition for financial institutions, developers or government. Via structured growth, they have the ability to unblock the potential for real collaboration and partnerships, which deliver truly liveable and sustainable outcomes.

It is time for New Zealand's public and private sectors to acknowledge the business case for community housing providers stacks up as a viable alternative to bank or state funding.

It's time to start figuring out how we bring this market to life.


A stake for everyone in Auckland's future

Aecom's Chief Sustainability officer Gary Lawrence is critical of the tendency to view cities in a homogenous light. Too often, he says, labels of "first world" and "third world" fail to understand the diverse makeup of those populations.

Lawrence notes, "people use quality of life as though it's a singular thing - the 'the quality of life in Auckland'; well there's poverty here."

Every major Western city has the third world and the first world as part of it." Complacency is a key problem when policymakers read too much into Auckland's high rankings on a global scale.

In reality, becoming a sustainable city requires the most disadvantaged to also feel as if they have a genuine stake in the future of Auckland. "That's one of the things that sustainability is about, that most people don't talk about - is there is a justice component to it? If you don't have a society that works, there's no way you're going to be sustainable."

Poverty can be one of the biggest contributors to social division in cities like Auckland, an often-overlooked aspect of sustainability. - Brierley Penn

- NZ Herald

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