In a country with a severe housing crisis, can we afford not to explore all options?
In the Bay of Plenty, more than $100,000 is spent on emergency housing each day.
Public housing wait-lists continue to hit new highs.
NZME reported figures from the Ministry of Social Development this month showing 1281 clients in Tauranga and the Western Bay of Plenty received emergency housing help totalling $11,317,570 between April last year and March.
In Rotorua, emergency housing grants totalled $21,075,039 for 2049 clients.
One social agency director calls the grants "dead money" and a "Band-Aid".
Government agency staff say millions of dollars are being poured into local housing initiatives. Construction of about 450 more public homes is planned for the Bay in 2023 and 2024.
We needed these homes years ago. What can we build or repurpose now?
Empty storefronts in Tauranga's CBD should be considered for housing.
It seems a crime to let all those square metres sit idle while people sleep in cars, couch surf and live in motels.
By some estimates, 25 per cent of the CBD's nearly 700 spaces are vacant.
That could change once the $200 million Farmers department store, dining precinct and luxury apartments are finished, and foot traffic increases.
The project is set for completion this year.
So now may be the time for a developer to buy up empty storefronts and convert them to living spaces.
Property services company Prendos says New Zealand developers are following the lead of successful office conversions in cities like London.
A large conversion is planned for the former TVNZ base in Auckland, where the 10-storey tower is being turned into 68 apartments.
It's a win for would-be home owners and renters, and for commercial landlords, who catch a break from decreased demand for retail and office space and from reduced rents.
More conversions are expected, thanks largely to the pandemic.
It has popularised remote working, causing many companies to downsize their office footprint.
One workplace consultancy predicted office space could reduce as much as 50 per cent.
Tauranga City Council planning and zoning rules already allow for residential housing in commercial areas.
Examples include Owens Place, Ashley Place and above storefronts in downtown Mount Maunganui. These have all been new builds.
The challenges of conversion include suitability and cost.
Not every commercial space can become a home, and the price for converting commercial square metres to living areas could put new CBD dwellings out of reach for first-home buyers.
So while commercial conversion may be one answer, it won't be the answer. It's cheaper to build medium-density housing outside the central city.
Other options mooted to open more land for housing in the Bay are to sell one public golf course in Tauranga and Rotorua, plus the Tauranga airport and racecourse.
I don't know about the airport crowd, but the racetrack and golf crowds are not happy about this.
Both are lovely places to visit, but are used by a small percentage of the population. While we need green spaces and places to relax, there are much less land-intensive ways to enjoy the outdoors.
We have parks, beaches and lots of other golf courses. New Zealand has one of the highest number of courses per capita, according to several industry sites.
Is having access to a golf course within 10km of home more valuable than building new housing in areas close to where people work, play and shop?
Transport lobby group Greater Tauranga is urging city commissioners to consider moving the city's racecourse and airport to make way for housing.
Co-leader and former city councillor Heidi Hughes estimated 10,000 homes could be built if the airport and some heavy industries were moved from Mount Maunganui.
She says 1800 homes and two schools could be built on the racecourse area. Both sit on publicly owned land.
Racing Tauranga chairman Carl McComb this month said he was against the idea of developing Tauranga Racecourse land for housing, and wants the council "to recognise that we are a historic racecourse that has been around for 148 years and would like it to remain protected in perpetuity".
The entire population of New Zealand would've been less than 800,000 in the late 1800s when the racecourse was established.
A fraction of Tauranga's population existed when the airport was built in 1939. The city has grown to meet facilities that were once outside town.
Growth requires change. All options for shifting people from cars, motels and other temporary accommodation into homes within the city should be considered.
It could help ease traffic congestion, reduce the burden for taxpayers who fund emergency housing, and relieve stress for people who can't find or afford a home.
Converting commercial buildings to housing and infilling green spaces won't solve the housing crisis, but these steps are a start. It's time to trade the hui for the hammer.