Proposed changes to Hutt City Council's district plan is hoping to address its growing population and demand for housing.
For the first time in several decades the population of the city is growing but it's also running out of greenfield land for traditional housing development.
Lower Hutt's also grappling with rising homelessness numbers, prompting the council to set up a strategy and action plan earlier this year.
It's clear the city needs more homes and the council's acting general manager for city transformation Helen Oram said the proposal was "the best tool we've got".
Hearings began this week on the proposed changes, named District Plan Change 43, for two new activity areas.
One would introduce a building height of 12 metres, three to four storeys, accommodating shops and cafes on the ground floor, with apartments or offices above.
"Medium Density Residential" would be next to it and allow buildings up to 10m.
The zones would be in eight areas in Stokes Valley, Taita, Naenae, Avalon/Park Ave, Epuni, Waterloo, Waiwhetu/Woburn and Wainuiomata. It'd be near shops, schools and public transport.
Outside those areas, the changes would also see more medium residential housing on sites larger than 1400m sq. It would give potential for terraced and clustered homes, shared parking and outdoor living areas with buildings up to 10m.
Oram said they needed to ensure they had the right number and types of homes the city needs.
"It'll also go some way to addressing the city's declining housing affordability that's keeping some young families and lower income people out of the housing market."
The city currently has an insufficient supply of housing with the population growing in the past few years after several decades of flat growth.
OneRoof figures show the median value of residential properties in Lower Hutt is $575,000.
That's increased by about 44 per cent in the past three years.
Mark Coffey is the director and owner of Tommy's Hutt Valley, and the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand's regional director.
He said in the past 20 years, it's the most demand he's seen for housing in the area.
"It's nowhere near meeting demand at the moment and as a result rents are still rapidly increasing."
Coffey said there were a lot more Wellingtonians deciding to move to the Hutt.
"It used to be Petone was as far as they were happy to go ... now because of supply and demand and cost, far more people in Wellington are happy to make the commute and travel from Lower Hutt and Upper Hutt."
He said demand for housing was across the board, but two bedrooms in particular were popular.
"Two bedrooms help people transcend the balance between cost and space."
The council said there were currently a narrow range of housing types and sizes and noted the shortage of one and two-bedroom homes.
It meant young families wanting to get onto the first rung of the property ladder, or older residents looking to downsize had few options.
Housing hardship and homelessness increasing over the past years in the city also illustrated the demand for housing.
There were 986 emergency housing grants issued in Lower Hutt in the quarter ending June 2019, worth just over $1.8 million.
That's about $1 million more than the that approved for Wellington City.
A written question from MP for Hutt South Chris Bishop to the Associate Housing Minister also showed there were a record number of people on the housing waiting list in Lower Hutt.
At the end of July, 415 Priority A and B applicants were on the Social Housing Register.
Bishop said the solution had to be housing supply.
"These are people in the highest need who simply can't get access to a social house ... that's a new record and trebled in the last two years,
"It's only once we start to get more land freed up and more housing being built that we'll start to address those very steep increases in rent and people not being able to access social housing."
Bishop said the conversation around medium-density housing should've been had quite some time ago.
"The council has dropped the ball in housing in the Hutt for the past five to seven years."
He said the city was perfect for intensification near public transport corridors and its railway spine.
"But they are challenging conversations because some people are opposed to greater intensification."
Coffey agreed and said developing upwards could be met with a certain amount of resistance from people affected, who didn't want a multi-storey going up next door.
Hearings on the proposed changes are expected to finish on Wednesday.
Oram said it was difficult to gauge public opinion so far.
"We have had some public opposition from some established and older residents, but we've also had some younger people who've been voicing support for greater action on housing supply and affordability."
A hearing decision is required by late October, with 30 days afterwards to lodge appeals. The council will meet to discuss the panel's decision in November.