Ted Manson once believed life was fair, everyone could succeed and most people should be able to buy their own house.

But in the past five years, he changed his mind.

The head of property company Mansons TCLM, and founder of the four-year-old philanthropic Ted Manson Foundation, spent his early years in an Auckland state house and his father, Colin, was 28 before he could afford his first car.

Life was a struggle, as Manson clearly remembers. But at 63, he is also pleased with the way his life worked out.

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With his father and now his sons, he expanded what is arguably the country's wealthiest private property development and investment business, and built his own wealth to the point where his 60th birthday party featured Lorde performing, alongside Hayley Westenra and Rhys Darby as MC.

Manson describes a type of epiphany which prompted him to take an entirely new direction.

"I used to think 'if I can come up from a state house, anyone can' but as you get older, you start to realise life is not fair. Not everyone can do it," he says as he drives from the Auckland CBD to the foundation's newest project.

It is building $160 million of Auckland social housing: a 10- and 11-level Glen Eden project; an 18-level central city tower; an Avondale block is earmarked for a $60m venture; and he has his eye on New Lynn and Papatoetoe.

"I woke up one day and I got a social conscience. That happens at some stage of your life for some, but not for all," says Manson. "Up until then, I was a capitalist.

"The foundation's goal is to build and provide more than 300 apartments for social housing by 2022 to help those who are struggling, so they're able to take the next step in life for a better future.

"Many people are enduring tough times and are under constant pressure and constraint because of hardship or misfortune. But robust, safe, warm, healthy homes which ensure security of tenure would give them the stability to contribute positively to their community and improve their quality of life."

Instead of building a few stand-alone homes on single sites, Manson is going far further than anyone has dared.

He decided to apply his high-rise expertise to help alleviate the plight of the poor and build on a grand scale.

Using all his sector connections and a lifetime's experience in making projects work, he decided to be ambitious.

From what he sees in Auckland, he can't afford to muck around. So he is fast-tracking development, with the audacious goal of finishing on two sites by mid-2019.

But he has resources to call on. Mansons TCLM staff are in on the project. For example, the most senior and experienced non-family member at Parnell-headquartered Mansons is construction manager Gary Young, one of this country's most skilled high-rise construction experts, who is on the foundation board and often at its sites.

On the day the Herald visited in mid-February, Young was with a group of construction chiefs meeting at Glen Eden, including CMP Construction founder and managing director Ron Macrae, whose business has the main contract. Young is in weekly project control group meetings to keep the programme on time and on budget.

I got a $58m quote to built it. It will owe me $65m-plus when it's finished, not including the cost of money and my staff's time

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Samantha Colgin, daughter of former Auckland mayor Len Brown, is the foundation's manager of social housing projects, working full-time on all three projects, looking at design with the architects, getting resource and building consents and attending every group meeting.

Manson says the two Glen Eden towers will be "Remuera quality", with a Homestar rating of 6.

"I got a $58m quote to build it," he says. "It will owe me $65m-plus when it's finished, not including the cost of money and my staff's time."

But in an area where many people struggle, demand is high. Seventy-five of the 165 new residences in the project will be sold privately, to reduce some of the capital tied up in the development and offset costs.

So is Manson aiming to at least break even, or maybe even make a profit from the project?

"No. I'm not doing it for profit," he says. "I'm making no money. I'm giving money away."

The Glen Eden project is being built in the main shopping area beside the railway line, across from Glen Eden Primary School, on the site of the former Salvation Army and vehicle repair businesses.

Ted Manson's foundation has three Auckland social housing projects. Photo/Jason Oxenham
Ted Manson's foundation has three Auckland social housing projects. Photo/Jason Oxenham

Because the Salvation Army was displaced by the foundation's development, Manson is paying rent on their new premises across Glendale Rd.

"I leased the new shop for them which is another $135,000 for three years."

Not all has gone well at Glen Eden, he says.

"The ground is spongy so we have to put in piles 30m deep, instead of 8m and retain the railway line. It was a tricky site because they're heavy trains and we had to go down a long way. It's going to cost us an extra $700,000 to $800,000 extra in the piling alone."

Construction of the initial two tower blocks at Glen Eden and one tower in the CBD is at foundation stage.

Manson's scheme is a new model for this country.

I woke up one day and I got a social conscience. That happens at some stage of your life for some but not for all

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The foundation will lease apartments to a social housing provider on a 25-year term. Manson says he is also working closely with the Salvation Army and his is an entirely new framework to drastically increase private sector investment in social housing development.

"The Ministry of Social Development has a list of all the areas of Auckland where demand is greatest," says Manson, describing about 500 such areas in west Auckland alone.

Scott Gallacher, the ministry's housing deputy chief executive, says: "We're really happy to be partnering with the foundation and we strongly support its commitment to be involved in large-scale public housing developments.

"We have a number of partnerships in the pipeline with a range of other housing providers.

"Our goal is for everyone to live somewhere that is warm, dry and safe and we're focused on making sure public housing is available for those most in need for as long as they need it."

Manson says the 55sq m, one-bedroom and 75sq m, two-bedroom Glen Eden units include decks and are above an underground carpark. Inspired by a Newmarket project by developer Ockham, Manson decided one tower must have an external Maori motif. So flax leaf patterns will appear on one side when it is finished. Balconies will be curved to soften the tower's appearance.

For 42 years, says Manson, he has taken pride in his work, developing new residential and commercial buildings, including the Lumley Centre on Auckland's Shortland St and the four-block Spark campus on Victoria St. Sons Culum, Luke and Mac are partners in the $1 billion business.

Colin and Ted started Mansons by buying and selling older Auckland houses, which they renovated, and Ted remembers buying appliances from electrician-turned-developer David Henderson, who developed Princes Wharf and the Hilton hotel.

"The most houses I bought unconditionally in one week was 28," says Manson.

"In 1986, I bought and sold 440 houses. These were all over Auckland: Ponsonby, Otara, New Lynn, Mangere, even Devonport. We bought and sold thousands of houses here in the '70s and '80s and I've got a lot of contacts out there."

The Manson family appeared on the 2017 NBR Rich List with a $570m fortune after "an outstanding year", completing and selling many big new green star-rated office buildings. Manson also took the inaugural Ernst & Young-ASB award for exceptional services to entrepreneurship at the Entrepreneur of the Year awards.

In 2014, Manson announced his foundation, with initial funding of $7.5m. He received more than 200 applications for help in that first year alone.

For son Culum Manson, none of this is a surprise: "He's putting back in what he really understands and knows. He might as well use his expertise. He's just become a lot more charitable in the last five years."

Ted sums it all up: "It's just about impossible for any person to do this unless they've got a lot of expertise, money and their own construction company."

NEW HOMES FOR ALL:

Ted Manson Foundation projects:

Glen Eden:

6 Waikumete Rd
Two blocks of 10 and 11 levels
12,186sq m residential/retail block
Construction started: June last year
Completion target: Next July 2019
235 sq m retail at ground level
Total apartments: 165
Total carparks: 114
Social housing units: 90

Liverpool St, Auckland CBD:

40-42 Liverpool St
18-level 5010sq m block
Construction started: September last year
Completion target: Next July
Total apartments: 92
Social housing: 73

Avondale:

1843 Great North Rd
Site purchase settled August 2017
Designs being prepared
$60m plan for around 140 units
About 80 to be social housing
Architectural plans commissioned

New Lynn/Papatoetoe:

Opportunities being examined
No decisions made yet