Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Auckland University snaps up Housing NZ block

The 44 Symonds St block will help ease accommodation pressures for students. Photo / Richard Robinson
The 44 Symonds St block will help ease accommodation pressures for students. Photo / Richard Robinson

One of Auckland's first two multi-storey state housing blocks has been sold to Auckland University to help meet a desperate shortage of student accommodation.

The 45-unit block at 44 Symonds St, a 68-year-old category A heritage building which cannot be demolished under the district plan, has been vacant since 2013 because of leaks.

Housing NZ hired conservation architects Salmond Reed to develop plans to renovate and extend the block, but chief executive Glen Sowry said it was "not economically viable" to go ahead.

"We estimated that it would be over $20 million to bring the building back up to standard, in line with its Category A heritage listing," he said.

Instead, Auckland University property director Peter Fehl said the university would upgrade the building for postgraduate students, including family apartments for older students with families.

He said the university would keep the existing structure of 26 one-bedroom units, 18 two-bedrooms and one three-bedroom apartment, and hoped to have them ready by the start of 2018. "I don't think it's a hugely long job but it does require some seismic strengthening and some maintenance upkeep.

"We have an enormous building programme in hand. We have increased our student accommodation numbers to more than 2500 from a fairly low base two years ago."

The university's student president Will Matthews said the building would help ease huge accommodation pressures for students in terms of both availability and price.

"Students are being forced away from the central city and forced to live in the suburbs, and that involves additional transport costs."

He said the average rent for a room in a house in Auckland was $218 a week but the maximum student loan for living costs was $176.86. The standard student allowance for a student with low-income parents living away from home is $175.10.

The sale follows a similar Housing NZ sale of Wellington's 87-unit Gordon Wilson Flats to Victoria University in 2014. In that case, the university has since applied to demolish the flats to make way for a pathway to its Kelburn campus.

Mr Sowry said the proceeds from the sale of the Symonds St block, which had a July 2014 rating valuation of $8.7 million, would be used "to either build, redevelop or improve social housing for people in need".

Auckland University architecture professor Julia Gatley said she was excited that the building would be retained for student accommodation.

- NZ Herald

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