In the lead-up to this year's local body elections the Whanganui Chronicle is asking Whanganui District Council candidates questions about current events and issues.
This week candidates were asked: "What achievable actions do you think council could or should take to help make housing available and affordable to everyone in Whanganui?"
Responses are listed in the order received.
Council, to their credit, have recently identified areas to proceed with subdivision etc.
What council cannot guarantee, of course, are affordable homes, which is a market forces phenomenon.
Affordability then becomes a social issue and can only be rectified by direct intervention of central government.
If we are to believe and/or expect that we are entitled to a cheaper loan or even a minuscule interest loan for a first-time buyer then that is legislation required at central government level.
Localised social housing for our aged or desperate could be managed by allowing the use of tiny homes and the like without unnecessary and expensive compliance costs.
The housing shortage for vulnerable individuals and families was created because Housing NZ, under National, sold 22 per cent of social housing in Whanganui. To date, Labour has failed to fix this problem.
Some people seem to think council (ratepayers) should fix this problem. I disagree. Ratepayers should not be expected to fund any social housing. That is the responsibility of central government and the reason we pay taxes, so the vulnerable can be housed and fed.
I do support council collaborating with different groups to try to help vulnerable people wherever it can. I also support council freeing up land, in a sustainable way. Council must also stream-line the consenting process, ensuring developers can build safe new homes with as little red tape as possible. Then we can accommodate the influx of new residents to Whanganui, which is good for the local economy and a good problem to have.
The NZ crisis has built up over 11 years. If we could "house our own" quickly we would be open doors to the nation until those towns catch up? I support council's recent Housing Strategy. It leads, seeks external funders, works with experienced stakeholders and will appoint a housing facilitator. It cannot be the main financier but where monies are sought it will considered in the annual planning. Council has opened 1000 land plots to help one sector. In my opinion this must have social housing. Council assists town centre building owners access government funding for earthquake strengthening and how empty spaces above may be converted to apartments. This support is now bearing real results. Working with iwi land holdings is a must-do action as successfully seen in other towns. Council must press central government to increase state housing and seek increased emergency shelter funding to our experienced agencies.
Council's Housing Strategy is intended to address increasing rates of homelessness, declining home ownership, increasing rents, and a shortage of rental properties - all important goals but unrealistic if expected to be the responsibility of the ratepayer to fund. The model we need to look at is that adopted by the Nelson City Council. NCC is divesting their 175-unit social housing to a partnership of HousingNZ and a local non-profit housing trust. The objective is to improve the wellbeing of existing tenants and increase the amount of subsidised housing that is available in Nelson. The Nelson City Council intends that the net proceeds from the sale ($8.8m) will fund future work on new social housing. WDC has the same opportunity - to realise approx $10m from the sale of its 275 unit portfolio and reinvest this in a new partnership capable of delivering a housing solution.
Housing is a nationwide issue and Whanganui District Council alone cannot solve it. But to deal with our district, the council needs work with local iwi and the central government to allocate land so more houses could be built. Cost is another problem. Council should give incentives to individuals to build additional houses, where possible, on their property(ies) to rent. These incentives could be rates rebate and easy access to building permits.
Council should look at the cost of the subdivision and the time taken for consenting.
There should be a very good database of people who need houses. These database needs to be visited every six months and people should be interviewed and listed on their needs basis. There should be a follow-up educational seminars so that people who need the houses could be taught saving and budgeting skills.
Council currently subsidises social housing (275 one-bedroom units) through the urban area. In July they adopted the housing strategy with guiding principles of leading, influencing, working in partnership and supporting good housing for everyone. The incoming council will be responsible for funding this strategy, which will require extra employee resources if we are to collaborate with other agencies, investigate, develop and finalise plans.
We need to ensure our working poor, elderly, vulnerable, disabled and rural residents are equally and equitably considered as well as our future residents. Is it a core service of council to make housing available and affordable to everyone in Whanganui?
Legislation for councillors is the LGA 2002, sections on decision making (S77) core services to be considered (S11A) and accountabilities are defined. When you vote make sure there is a balanced skill-set.
I stand for affordability, common sense and I have experience.
Housing is one of the most important issues facing our district. Let's look at what has worked in similar districts around the world. Council should engage in town planning that discourages sprawl - adjust zoning to encourage higher density housing while maintaining public green spaces and agricultural land. Council should prioritise development projects that contribute to long-term permanent housing. Council can decrease the cost and expedite consents for high-density housing, housing in the CBD, apartment conversions. Council could discourage under-occupied homes by offering incentives for single people to downsize to smaller homes and incentivise intergenerational housing. Currently council-owned flats are limited to elderly residents; there may be opportunity to use council-owned properties as residential or cooperative-housing models. In addition to housing quantity, housing quality must be addressed by council. A healthy homes advice service would benefit the health and wellbeing of all residents while lowering living costs.
Whanganui faces a major housing crisis at present. With the number of people moving here our rental housing, social housing and private housing market can't cope. Large waiting list numbers and multiple interest in the private rental market, it is raising our average rental costs to the point of unaffordability, which is seeing people struggle and even sleep in their cars.
As a council we need to begin with opening new areas of land so it can be developed into several new sections to enable new builds and potentially freeing up private housing and producing more private rentals.
The housing crisis is not a quick overnight fix. This needs to become one of the top priorities for the new incoming council.
Council's newly minted Housing Strategy has 42 actions under the banners "What we're doing to develop housing", "What we're doing to make sure we have the right stock", "What we're doing to provide a variety of housing opportunities" and "What we're doing to encourage safe, vibrant and resilient communities".
As part of the council working group that talked with many people in developing the draft strategy, I know there are actions that will help solve our current crisis. However, the Housing Strategy must not be allowed to gather dust. The next council must ensure that the activity in the strategy is properly resourced, the goals are prioritised and measurable. Then, councillors must be relentless and persistent in demanding results. The strategy is well worth a look. The document can be found on the council website.
Council's role is to enable the build of more appropriate homes by:
Increasing land supply e.g. Springvale and Castlecliff plans and rezoning.
Strongly promote infill housing, making subdivision quicker, cheaper, easier.
Identify underutilised land for potential development.
Work with other providers to unlock underutilised land e.g. Housing NZ.
Streamline consenting processes making them easier and quicker.
Help building owners navigate regulations so they can convert buildings to residential e.g. upper stories in Victoria Ave.
Educate on new and existing energy efficient and insulation programmes. All new homes must be very warm and dry.
Partner with agencies and government to address housing issues, developing solutions for renters with complex issues; increasing affordable social housing.
Work very closely with our iwi to develop solutions together.
Collaborate with and encourage private developers to come up with new solutions, tiny homes, prefabricated builds, community living, be creative.
And this is just the start.
Why is it the council's responsibility to provide housing at all?
Apart from pensioner housing (which Wanganui has a number of excellent facilities) I believe that the private sector is in a far better position to meet housing needs.
With the current laws on rental housing all rental housing (supposedly) is warm, dry and fit for use.
I see the council's role in the housing arena is to ensure the private rental market has the means and abilities to meet the market.
In other words – keep out of it and let the private sector get on with it with the minimum of interference.
One of the by-products of a positive bump in our local economy is pressure on the housing market. This has particular impact at the lower end where once affordable housing becomes less so as rents rise as the property values increase. These are market-related phenomena and WDC has an important role to play as the service provider and mentor for new and existing development. This, however, is limited to pipes and planning and working with developers and agencies to provide solutions. Council has an existing pensioner housing portfolio that plays an important role. Many argue WDC should not be a landlord in any way. I support retaining the Pensioner Housing Portfolio as there is a social need for ratepayers to look after our elders at risk. But that is where your rates dollar stops. Council should not be using ratepayer dollars to build affordable housing.
Council has developed a Housing Strategy and opened up land across Otamatea West, Springvale and Castlecliff for residential development. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to organisations like the People's Centre who operate on the frontlines to address the tragedy of homelessness across our district. We should continue to provide them with resources to do their work.
Council should continue to make land available to boost housing supply. We should also lobby central government for additional public housing to address our growing Housing NZ waiting list. We should ensure that council does not sell its pensioner housing portfolio (275 units). If re-elected I will push for a district plan change similar to the UK model, which requires all new residential developments to include a small percentage of social/affordable housing. Finally, the Productivity Commission's 2015 report into "Using Land for Housing" provides some insightful guidance for councils to consider.
Council's Housing Strategy (July 2019) acknowledges the joint responsibility of community and council in freeing up land, more fully utilising existing buildings, seeking funding, and reducing consenting constraints.
Council has identified areas of lower quality soils for future housing development. I was heavily involved in the Northwest Structure Plan (formerly Otamatea) decision which council has adopted. Similarly, we anticipate progress on the Springvale Structure Plan and at Long Beach. These initiatives are comprehensive and pave the way for unhindered, cost-effective housing, serviced by infrastructure (roads, waste, storm and drinking water) resilient to expected climate change. They aim to provide for up to 1500 new houses accommodating a large portion of our expected housing growth for a number of years.
Council will work with iwi, developers, and builders to ensure that these opportunities are fulfilled in the most efficient manner.
Council cannot, and should not, get into providing further housing itself.
The housing crisis hit Whanganui like a "freight train" and since council has realised the severity of it, we have been strong and diligent in prioritising what is now a robust Housing Strategy for all sectors.
Important achievable actions in the strategy include increasing housing land supply, moving on re-zoning plans in Springvale and Whanganui East. We must investigate a social housing investment plan that may involve selling but guaranteeing tenure in our pensioner housing flats, while investing the proceeds in improved social housing, working with Government and iwi to investigate under-utilised land for development and streamlining the consenting process for key sites.
As part of a modern, vibrant city we need to be pro-active around new and innovative housing options and work closely with industry, business and Government around conversion of inner city and commercial buildings and employment opportunities for our youth in this space.
I want to increase the social housing structure. Whanganui City Council has a duty of care to its people and environment for quality of housing stocks and the amount of housing stock.
I'd want to put an incentive on investment to build affordable housing. Speed up the process for people wanting to build houses.
For example offering lower administration costs for people building affordable housing.
I will not vote to sell council's social housing and will lobby the Government to make WDC and 59 other councils in NZ who own 12,000 social houses declared "social housing providers" to access MSD funding for a five-year complete healthy homes maintenance upgrade for all units here.
New subdivisions are good but make $500,000 to $800,000 homes in areas without shops, buses or other infrastructure. I want to see Whanganui people enabled to build "infill" housing. We have many "empty nester" large houses on large sections (have a look at a satellite map). Subdivide those and the owners have the capital to create for themselves in a warm new home and sell or rent the older, larger house to a younger, larger Whanganui family to improve their future. A win for two real Whanganui families and their community.
Why should this be only the domain of developers and speculators? I want to see council play a real role in creating the vision for (and removing the barriers to) Whanganui people creating better housing for themselves.
The council has just released its Housing Strategy 2019. The strategy sets out the issues facing the district and reiterates the need for collaboration with community, leaders and stakeholders to effect the changes needed. We need short-, medium- and long-term solutions. That should be the council's main focus at a local and national level.
Housing is a national issue and council is best placed to lobby central government for changes in policy and access to much needed resources.
Locally there's a lot to do and many willing partners who just want to get on and do the job. As a critical partner, council takes a facilitation role bringing together all those who will contribute to the outcome we seek – safe, warm, dry and affordable housing for all. Identify the issues that hinder progress and take appropriate action to remove those barriers or make the process easier to navigate.
House prices continue to rise, which is great for current owners, but difficult for those yet to buy. Rent increases are a direct side effect of these rising prices; we should take some comfort interest rates are at an all time low. Increased Government requirements of landlords again push rents up, this should not come as a surprise, of course that cost was always going to be passed on to the tenant. To answer the Chronicle' impossible question, could or should council/ratepayers take any steps to make housing available and affordable to everyone in Whanganui? How anyone can think that a possibility is beyond me. I am aware, too many in our community are unable to fully support themselves and housing remains a problem. This is central government's responsibility, not forgetting, housing our people before anyone else must take priority.
People approach me with housing problems all the time. One family has their children living separately as they have only one room to rent, both working. Another family, one parent with a job, have lost their rental and are now living in a caravan.
The way forward is WDC, working in partnership with the whole community, implementing the excellent Housing Strategy they have developed.
Taking advantage of the government's new funding initiatives for housing will be of paramount importance.
Sharing the reality of homelessness through social media and print is also important as we travel this very difficult journey together.
Providing correct information for landlords to dispel misinformation is key.
Good ideas: living more communally, using heritage buildings, building tiny houses, in some parts of the UK houses left empty for one year have to be sold or rented – interesting!
The apparent housing issues are not only being experienced in Whanganui. We are all well aware that the current Government has and is continuing to make efforts to relieve the situation. Despite these efforts very little progress has been achieved in improving the situation. Since the Government's resources are substantially greater than those of the WDC then it is reasonable to assume that the council will struggle to make meaningful inroads into the issue.
However council has recognised that more land within the city needs to be rezoned to accommodate new housing. Some of the necessary rezoning is in place but work must be continued to ensure that the rezoning in the Springvale area in particular is completed.
In recent times the Government has constructed very attractive housing within our community. However more liaison required with that entity to ensure that the new developments continue.
I believe the council can do a few things to help alleviate the housing squeeze we are experiencing, and they are well under way.
The first is making land available for residential development. We will see this soon in Springvale, then Castlecliff as we have recently off Great North Rd. This will be a game changer.
We should at least maintain if not grow our pensioner housing portfolio to assist our pensioners with limited income to live in more affordable and more communal communities.
The council is continuing to encourage residential development in the city centre, but is often restricted by central government regulations.
Lastly the council can, and is, petitioning central government for more social housing in our city.
We want more people to call Whanganui home but we first have to ensure that we are able to accommodate those already here.
I've worked hard for six years on council to grow Whanganui's reputation for arts, heritage and lifestyle and the results are fantastic with 2000 new residents. But housing is at a premium and that squeezes those who can least afford it. Housing is one of my top priorities for the next term. I've established the Heritage Restoration Trust to help save inner-city heritage buildings plus convert upper levels to apartments. We're looking for our first building now and have council support. Council has approved large new housing areas and is pro development. Council must keep control of its pensioner housing portfolio, which doesn't affect rates. No one should live on our streets or garages and we are working with charities and government agencies to establish new flexible housing areas using government funding. No rates should go into housing, but we must be the facilitator to grow housing for everyone.