Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

New plan 'big blow' to home buyers

Trust says too few high-density zones in city blueprint will keep house prices high

Community housing tenant Shannon Wallace. Photo / Dean Purcell
Community housing tenant Shannon Wallace. Photo / Dean Purcell

Community housing providers say the latest draft planning rules would make affordable housing impossible in 85 per cent of Auckland.

Auckland Community Housing Network chairman Peter Jeffries says Auckland councillors dealt "a disastrous blow" to young couples seeking their first house by caving in to an intense campaign by existing homeowners against high-density housing in almost all suburban areas.

The current proposed Unitary Plan, approved a month before last October's council elections, imposes a minimum of at least 200sq m of land per dwelling in all except 15 per cent of the Auckland urban area - the 5 per cent zoned for terraced housing and apartments, and 10 per cent in a three-storey "mixed housing urban" zone around suburban centres and main transport routes.

Mr Jeffries said that at current Auckland land values of around $1000 a sq m, home-buyers anywhere else would face land costs of at least $200,000 plus building costs of up to $160,000 for a one-bedroom unit or $200,000 for two bedrooms.

"Affordability is thrown out the window," he said.

Mr Jeffries' Community of Refuge Trust recently built eight one-bedroom flats in two new two-storey houses on a 1000sq m site next to the commercial area in Otahuhu.

That worked out at 125sq m of land per dwelling including pocket gardens and a shared barbecue area. It cost only $240,000 a dwelling including the land, enabling the units to rent at only $250 a week.

But the trust had to pull out of buying eight one-bedroom units from Housing NZ in Maria St, Onehunga, where escalating land values would have made the rents unaffordable.

Housing NZ will keep all 17 units it's building there on the sites of three existing homes. "I can't find any land that allows me to do what we've done in Otahuhu. The zoning will not allow me to buy one or two sections and divide it into smaller lots."

Mr Jeffries said even high-rise apartments, in the 5 per cent of the city where they will be allowed, could not be made affordable because of the costs of lifts and reinforced con crete construction unless they were tiny or came with a cheap land deal.

"Auckland Council is setting itself up to fail miserably in delivering on one of its key priorities in the much-touted Auckland Unitary Plan. There is no evidence the proposed plan will do anything to lower the city's median house price, in fact, the opposite."

Auckland deputy mayor Penny Hulse said the city needed to debate the issues raised by Mr Jeffries, and urged people to make submissions on the proposed plan by the February 28 closing date.

"Some of the points he makes are right. That's why it's absolutely critical people like CORT [Community of Refuge Trust] and Peter Jeffries put in submissions because those are the issues that now need to be discussed," she said. "When we listen to concerns about affordable housing, we need to see bits of the Unitary Plan may need to shift to allow for this."

Lucky few get place in trust flats

Sixty-year-old Shannon Wallace was lucky to get an affordable flat in a new community housing block in Otahuhu last year. Many others missed out.

"We could have filled all eight units 30, even 40, times over," said Peter Jeffries, whose Community of Refuge Trust (CORT) built the flats for $240,000 apiece.

The rent of $250 a week is in line with the Otahuhu one-bedroom flat average of $249 a week, but there are simply not enough one-bedroom flats available to meet the demand.

Mr Jeffries is frustrated that he can't build any more at an affordable price. Up the road at Mt Wellington, escalating land prices have pushed up the price of another block of one-bedroom units to $300,000 each.

Mrs Wallace needed her own flat after suffering a sudden delusional breakdown early last year. She still goes home to her husband and son in Panmure at weekends, but can't stay there permanently because of an uncontrollable feeling that insects are crawling all over the place when she's there.

Her new flat is spotless and she feels safe there. She is resigned to taking medication for the rest of her life, has a key mental health worker who looks after her health needs, and calls CORT's housing worker who looks after the block for anything related to the house.

- NZ Herald

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