Wayne Thompson

Wayne Thompson is a NZ Herald reporter.

Pensioners fear for future under Housing NZ plan

Anne Braithwaite, who lives in one of the Freemans Bay flats, is worried about redevelopment. Photo / Greg Bowker
Anne Braithwaite, who lives in one of the Freemans Bay flats, is worried about redevelopment. Photo / Greg Bowker

Residents of an inner-Auckland pensioner flat complex are shocked that their landlord Housing NZ is trying to interest developers in a real estate deal that would mean demolition of their homes and possibly force them to transfer to outer suburbs.

The complex of 42 units in Spring St, Freemans Bay, is only 32 years old and is admired for its spacious areas of lawn, trees and gardens between the single and double-storey blocks.

However, in a confidential invitation for developers' expressions of interest obtained by the Herald, the state-owned corporation said the 5859sq m property - valued at $8.8 million - is a prime development site.

Present one-bedroom units were "under utilised and provide an exciting opportunity for redevelopment into medium-density private residential and state housing", it said.

The proposal could result in the building of more than 80 units in a multi-storey development in which Housing New Zealand would lease back 42 units for social housing.

But residents - many in their 90s - are worried about the disruption and say a leasing arrangement will mean their homes won't be secure. They also haven't been told where they will be housed during a rebuild.

HNZ usually looks at selling homes worth more than $700,000 when they become vacant. In the draft Unitary Plan, the property is zoned for apartments and terrace houses.

Spring St flats resident Robert Tait said some of his neighbours had been led to believe they had security of tenure.

A letter from the corporation about a "redevelopment" had caused a lot of stress and angst.

"Some people won't handle the move very well and at that age [their 90s] it's a huge disruption having to pack up."

Mr Tait said tenants could not find out whether they would be offered a place there in the future.

"Probably we will be dispersed all over Auckland. Some tenants have no family or support structure, with only their neighbours to help them as needed."

Labour MP Jacinda Ardern said it did not make sense that the corporation would sell a valuable plot of land and then lease back from a private developer enough units to house the same number of people.

Housing NZ's general manager for asset development, Sean Bignell, said letters were hand-delivered to tenants in October, letting them know the units were being considered for redevelopment and a process to select a redevelopment partner would get under way soon.

On November 15, it issued a request for expressions of interest.

The aim was to improve the standard and suitability of accommodation provided for elderly tenants, he said. The expressions-of-interest period closes on January 13.

Auckland Central MP and Government minister Nikki Kaye said Spring St was a potential area for upgrade and redevelopment.

"I think it is really important that residents are kept well informed.

"Housing New Zealand has assured me that they have hand-delivered letters and spoken to residents about the potential for redevelopment."

Worries for vulnerable community

Anne Braithwaite loves her sunny and safe single-storey unit in the Spring St complex where she has lived for 17 years. The 76-year-old knows it is prime real estate.

She fears what will happen when a new developer gets hold of her unit, which, like the other 41 flats, iswell maintained, warm and dry, she says.

"Some of the community are frail and they should not be pushed around. I felt frustrated at the lack of information - the most contact has been a letter saying there is a possible redevelopment and that a support person would visit.

"Two women came around but they are so far down the organisation that they don't know the answers to our questions, like where are they going to put us?

"What they don't say is when we are getting a house back. If it's five years, I don't want to be shifting in my 80s. "Will we be out there where we don't know anybody? We have a community here."

Privately owned homes overlook the Spring St complex.

Resident Mary Daysh said she had not heard anything from Housing New Zealand about the proposal.

"About the height of it I have no idea, but my concern is the traffic problem - the area cannot cope with 80 more cars when already it is constantly full of cars.

"I feel incredibly sorry for people who live there to get a shock like that," she said. "They form a great community."

- NZ Herald

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