Editorial: Iwi housing plan shows what Treaty really means

The site of the Tamaki Collective's first housing project at Weymouth, Auckland. Photo / Natalie Slade
The site of the Tamaki Collective's first housing project at Weymouth, Auckland. Photo / Natalie Slade

Treaty settlements tend to disappear from public view a day after they have been announced. Not so for an imminent settlement with Auckland iwi that has enabled the 13 iwi to form a partnership with voluntary agencies for a low-cost housing development at Weymouth.

The scheme, reported in the Herald yesterday, is a reminder on the eve of Waitangi Day that the spirit of the Treaty often moves in creative ways. The project is a response to the problems of housing affordability and supply in Auckland, the Government's withdrawal from direct provision of state housing and the Auckland Council's aim to increase the density of residential developments.

The 16ha site on the Manukau, formerly a farm next to the Weymouth children's home, will contain 282 units, of which 127 will be sold on the open market and up to 99 will be tenanted on shared equity or rent-to-buy arrangements. The rest will be low rent tenancies, administered by several independent charities rather than Housing NZ.

The units will be built to several different designs, all double-storeyed and on much less land than the state houses of areas such as Otara and Glen Innes where permanent tenants, who regard the houses as their own, have been waging a long resistance to more intensive redevelopment.

Legislation abolishing state tenancies-for-life - the subject of the second article in our series today - attracted surprisingly little comment when the bill was passed last year. Perhaps its full implications will not be widely apparent until the law takes effect in April.

Generations of state tenants have regarded their rented house as their own. They had often been on a waiting list for one and when their turn came, it was like a dream come true. They embraced the house as their own and, while all tenants did not always maintain the houses as their own, many did.

It became to all intents and purposes their house and if, when their income rose, their rent approached "market" rates, the area's market values were modest.

In developments such as Waimahia - Weymouth's Maori name - the abolition of permanent tenancy will have immediate effects. One of these effects may be to ensure that renters look to take advantage of the shared equity and rent-to-buy offers as soon as they can.

If it works to plan, there will be a constant turnover of rentals, enabling people in the most desperate need to be given adequate housing quickly, and encouraging them in turn to move to at least partial ownership as soon as they can.

This may not be a recipe for improving the appearance of state rental property. Only one in five of the units at Weymouth will be full rentals, and they are likely to be well scattered amid the privately owned homes. But the more temporary their tenancy, the less tidy their appearance may be.

Those sold on the open market are expected to be priced at $325,000 to $475,000, which would make them an attractive proposition for both first-home seekers and portfolio investors. The iwi will want a fair return on the investment of their Treaty settlement. It may be too much to expect the developers to favour sales to first-home buyers, but that must be the hope.

The site is Auckland Council's first designated "special housing area" for fast-track resource consents. Earthworks have started. The first units are expected to be built by August or September. It could be a model for affordable housing schemes elsewhere. On the eve of the Treaty commemoration, it is already a fine example of what it means.

- NZ Herald

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