More than $100 million in infrastructure spending could be a game-changer for Dunedin as it struggles through a housing crisis made worse by the fallout from Covid-19.
Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins yesterday said that as households were pushed towards poverty through lost income, reduced hours, or reduced wages in an economy in need of rebuilding, there could be an increasing need for affordable rental housing.
The real test for the Government as it planned its economic recovery would be the appetite it had for infrastructure projects that not only drove economic stimulus in the short term but helped address the longer-term social and environmental issues, he said.
"I've made it clear in conversations with Government that I think it would be a massive missed opportunity if it doesn't invest more in housing as infrastructure, using the economic recovery as an opportunity to address wider social issues," Hawkins said.
"We need to support the construction sector and make sure there's work for them to do so that it doesn't fall over and we need to continue to make sure we are training people to come through and work in that sector; but the market is never really going to address where the greatest need is — and that is people on lower incomes who need affordable rental housing."
The Dunedin City Council has applied for $5.2m for a community housing development from Crown Infrastructure Partners' "shovel-ready" projects funding to help lower-income residents in need, but has also indicated it wants help with funds for a $20m upgrade of the council's existing 936 community housing units.
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It is also seeking $85m of infrastructure projects to open the door for private development of transitional-zoned land for residential and commercial development.
"All eyes are on the Budget in a couple of weeks to see what comes out of that in terms of directly supporting our communities.
"That will have a pretty significant bearing on what we can do locally," Hawkins said.
Economic forecaster Infometrics has predicted a national unemployment rate of 10 per cent — a level of economic disruption not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s — and hundreds of thousands of job losses, including tens of thousands in accommodation and food services, retail and wholesale trade, construction, non-food manufacturing, transport, postal and warehousing, and professional, scientific and technical services.
Salvation Army Dunedin community ministries manager David McKenzie said the level 3 and 4 restrictions had been "pretty serious" for those on a low income, and before the lockdown there was already a significant crunch on the rental market.
But with some suggestion short-term visitor accommodation was being returned to the longer-term rental market, if more rental properties became available in the short term there could be relief for some of those in need.
"By and large, everybody's just waiting to come out of this lockdown period ...
"Quite a number have been placed in motels over this time and I would hate to see them turfed back out on to the street," said McKenzie.
"I don't think people are going to do that, but some genuine solutions have got to be found for them."