Whangārei housing crisis: council pleads for government support

7:37 pm on 22 December 2020

Whangārei District Council is calling for beefed-up government action to address the district's worsening housing issues.

Affordable houses around Whangarei are in short supply, creating a social crisis in the city.

Affordable houses around Whangarei are in short supply, creating a social crisis in the city. Photo: Northern Advocate/Michael Cunningham

"Whangārei District Council requests greater support and focus from Central Government to ensure housing meets the needs of our communities," Sheryl Mai, Whangārei Mayor said.

"We are seeing increasing unaffordability for first-home buyers and growing concern from the community housing sector on the ability to meet the need for housing."

"Alone, Whangārei District Council cannot fully address these housing issues," Mai said.

Mai made her call in a letter to Minister of Housing Megan Woods, highlighting this to last Thursday's Whangārei District Council (WDC) meeting of the year where housing was a major and sometimes heated discussion topic

WDC has identified housing as one of its top priorities.

"Support and partnership between Whangārei District Council and central government is essential if we are to further address the housing issues of our district."

Ratepayers fund district council housing provision whilst taxpayers fund central government efforts in the sector.

Mai said Whangārei had experienced significant increases in house sale prices and weekly rents over the past decade. Its average house sale price increases had outstripped national figures over winter and early spring this year.

"This has created an increasingly severe housing affordability issue for our communities... the affordability of weekly rents and house prices in Whangārei is similar to those seen in Christchurch, Hamilton and Tauranga," Mai said.

The government had worked to provide more housing in these places, but it had not done so in the same way for Whangārei, she said.

Consultation on the council's recent draft growth strategy had identified housing affordability as one of the most important issues facing the district. Housing was also a key driver in WDC's proposed 2021-2031 Long Term Plan.

Mai said WDC had a vital role to play in the supply of land and infrastructure for housing as well as the management of its 164 elderly housing units - which were well managed but the council had limited housing resources and expertise.

"Our primary resource focus is on ensuring we have the infrastructure in place to support growth and levels of service for our communities."

Mayor Sheryl Mai says housing is Whangarei District Council's top priority, but says urgent help is needed from central government.

Mayor Sheryl Mai says housing is Whangarei District Council's top priority, but says urgent help is needed from central government. Photo: Tania Whyte

Mai said central government support was being sought to address housing issues across half a dozen areas WDC was working on.These included housing capacity assessments as part of the government's urban development requirements.

WDC had demonstrated there was enough land to meet overall housing demand in the short, medium and long term.

"Despite this, the availability of the right type of affordable housing remains a key concern for our communities," Mai said.

"Our analysis based on Ministry of Social Development data shows there is current social housing need for approximately 450 units," Mai said.

WDC chief executive Rob Forlong said the council had shown government officials around Whangārei so they could check out available land, but this still had not resulted in it stepping up the pace to get affordable housing moving on this land. There had been a few things happening but more effort was needed.

He said population growth, largely driven by newcomers into the district, meant houses were being quickly bought up. Those who were in the housing sector's lower end through renting or cheaper houses were being driven out by rising prices due to that growth.

"The government recognises the demand for public housing and emergency housing assistance continues to rise," Megan Woods, Minister of Housing, said when asked by Local Democracy Reporting if the government had forgotten Whangārei's housing needs.

She said the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had last month set up a local governance and working group to accelerate the pace of Northland housing delivery.

"We are concentrating our efforts in regions like Northland where there is high need and demand for public housing is growing at the fastest pace," Woods said.

Kāinga Ora planned to build an extra 350 state homes in Northland, 220 of which would be in Whāngarei.

"Northland is the second fastest growing region by population in the country resulting in pressure on existing private and public housing stock."

Kāinga Ora had built 31 new homes in Whangārei district since November 2017. There were five current projects it was working on. Two of these were in Raumunga.

A six-bedroom Fairburn Street home was due for completion before the end of the year. Two other four-bedroom Tennyson Street homes were due to be completed by the end of next month.

Earthworks were under way for 37 new two, three and four-bedroom homes and a community room in Kāinga Ora's Puriri Park Road, Maunu with construction due to start early next year.

Resource consent application for 20 new mostly three- and four-bedroom Pearce Drive Kamo state homes would be lodged in January, with earthworks scheduled to be completed by Autumn. Construction would be ongoing, Woods said.

Kāinga Ora was also scheduled to start building in Autumn next year on three new homes in Charles Street Kamo.

Woods said the government, through its Ministry of Housing and Urban Development's Te Maihi o te Whare Māori - Māori and Iwi Housing innovation (MAIHI) action framework and Maihi partnerships programme, was working collectively with local iwi and Māori along with the Ministry of Social Development, Te Puni Kōkiri, Kāinga Ora and the council to collectively relieve housing stress for Whangārei and wider Northland.

It was also working with Ngāti Hine Health Trust, One Double Five Community Trust and Kāhui Tū Kaha in a collective called Kāinga Pūmanawa (Housing First Whangārei) that was set up in July last year to address chronic homelessness in the region. Sixty-three people had been accepted into the collective's programme since it was started. This housed and supported people and whānau in Whāngarei.

A rapid rehousing trial was also being set up in Northland to help individuals and whānau with low-to-medium complexity in their support needs. About 44 trial places were expected to be available, Woods said.

A new way of providing funding for the infrastructure necessary to support housing development had been put together. A special purpose entity could be set up to fund and construct new housing development infrastructure.

This would levy new homeowners using newly-built infrastructure to repay debt raised up front to pay for these services. This new approach provided opportunities for local councils, Māori and iwi, and developers to partner and deliver infrastructure without having to worry about council debt limits or high upfront developers' costs.

Woods said New Zealand's cities were growing quickly with housing supply and infrastructure often not keeping pace with demand.

Local councils were responsible for providing water, roading and community infrastructure to support housing but often faced financing constraints. This meant infrastructure to support housing was often delivered late in the piece or even postponed, delaying new house construction.

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