Auckland's tallest social housing high-rise tower is up and will open next year, its 18 levels standing high above the surrounding buildings on one of the CBD's steepest streets.

Locally-owned CMP Construction is building Life Apartments, the $30 million 50m-plus 92-unit block at 40-42 Liverpool St above Queen St for the philanthropic Ted Manson Foundation which uses money from one of the city's richest men to house its poorest.

The steep Liverpool St site, home to the first social housing tower. Photo/CMP Construction
The steep Liverpool St site, home to the first social housing tower. Photo/CMP Construction

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Manson, head of property company Mansons TCLM, said he personally funded the site purchase, planning and resource consents, design, construction and fit out costs for the tower which has 56 one-bedroom apartments "because the Ministry of Social Development says that's the highest need in the city, mainly for singles and older people".

Private buyers will purchase some units but the ministry will lease most of the tower residences. Community provider Compass Housing Services will tenant and manage the building, Manson said.

"I'm doing it to make a difference," said Manson of the project, due to be finished next winter.

"It's a beautiful building, far better than I ever imagined."

The 18-level Life Apartments on their extremely steep site in the CBD. Photo/CMP Construction
The 18-level Life Apartments on their extremely steep site in the CBD. Photo/CMP Construction

Housing NZ Corporation said Life Apartments were double the height of any buildings the state owned in Auckland.

"The tallest we own is 139 Greys Ave, which is nine storeys. We lease in taller buildings, but not the whole thing," a spokesman said.

Hope Simonsen, chairperson of the Auckland Community Housing Provider Network, said new social housing was good because it was needed.

"As a philanthropist and a developer, Ted is doing some pioneering stuff," she said.

"At the moment as a city we are in desperate need of good quality social housing so any efforts made in that area are good. It's important to consider how communities are being shaped and developed to include housing to provide for people across the continuum. It needs to provide for people of all income levels."

But construction experts said building on such a small, steep site between Queen St and Symonds St has been challenging: the ground floor steps across three levels, traffic management is tight, another property investor's site opposite had to be leased for "lay down" of equipment, vehicles, bins and portable offices and trucks need special rubber chocks beneath their wheels to secure them on the steep hill.

Sam Colgan, foundation community housing projects manager, said ground conditions were not as expected. "Piling had to be slightly deeper than anticipated in the geotechnical report. Client-led changes increased costs during construction including an upgrade to the specifications of the apartments and the building's facade."

Paul Brown Architects designed robust concrete floor and wall units with a minimum longevity of 50 years for the 368sq m site where the gradient is around 30 per cent.

Andrew Moore, CMP commercial manager, said windows from NZ Windows in Tauranga were fitted into pre-cast concrete panel walls made by Wilson Precast before they were delivered to the site, speeding construction. One floor rose every week and teams worked seven days a week: "We've absolutely smashed this project out."

Project manager James Sutherland of CMP said: "We built 15 floors in four months."

The Ted Manson Foundation will be responsible for looking after the building's exterior and common areas along with Mansons TCLM and CMP is giving apartment buyers a 25-year warranty.

Most windows were pre-fitted into pre-cast concrete wall panels. Photo/CMP Construction
Most windows were pre-fitted into pre-cast concrete wall panels. Photo/CMP Construction

"The foundation's aim is to provide long-term housing to those New Zealanders who are struggling. We want to provide robust, safe, warm, healthy homes with long-term security," Manson said.

Tenants will only pay a maximum 25 per cent of their income in rent because they will qualify for income-related rent subsidies. Seventy-three of Life Apartment's 93 units will be social housing places.

"It's a high social housing quota because I'm doing it to make a difference. What's the point of doing it without that? I would have had it all social housing but the Government wouldn't allow that," Manson said of the ministry's demands for private/social tenancy balance. "They want a mixture."

Plans showing how the block fits on its small site. Photo/Ted Manson Foundation
Plans showing how the block fits on its small site. Photo/Ted Manson Foundation

Manson is building a $70m twin-tower 10 and 11-level apartment blocks at Glen Eden and plans to build a third $65m social housing block in Avondale, although work is yet to begin there. He plans a fourth project at Papatoetoe, saying the CBD, west and south had the greatest need for social housing.

"We had a community event there recently. People were delighted. The Ted Manson Foundation purchased two new 12-seater vans to transport many different school and sporting groups in the area and we're building a playground at the local primary school. The Glen Eden development will be finished around the end of next winter," Manson said. There, 90 apartments out of 165 are for social housing.