Ōpōtiki Council eager to free up land for homes

6:38 am on 26 March 2021

Ōpōtiki District Council will be quick to capitalise on the government's housing infrastructure fund to open up land for much-needed homes.

Ōpōtiki mayor Lyn Riesterer

Ōpōtiki Mayor Lyn Riesterer says the town is well placed to seek government help to help meet housing needs in the district. Photo: Facebook

The government unveiled a new housing programme on Tuesday, which includes a $3.8 billion fund that councils and developers can access to help finance roads and infrastructure needed to service new builds.

Ōpōtiki Council chief executive Aileen Lawrie said the timing was ideal for the council and it was hoping to access this fund to free up land around the Hukutaia neighbourhood.

In its last long-term plan the council asked the community whether it should reticulate the area around "Hospital Hill" in preparation for new housing developments. The community responded yes, but only when there was population growth to justify it.

The district was seeing that demand right now, Lawrie said. With that in mind, the council will be going back to the community in this long-term plan and asking about the timing and details of that reticulation.

"There are a lot of reasons that Hukutaia is an excellent medium to long-term option for growth in the district," she said.

"It already has a number of other council services like water supply and footpaths and rubbish collection. It is greenfields land so more housing can be created in the same amount of space.

"There are positive iwi outcomes for the use of that land. There are social and affordable housing benefits. There are improvements to water quality because it moves existing houses off septic tank systems. And it is well away from flood, tsunami and sea level rise risks - these are top of mind for Ōpōtiki residents at the moment and it aligns with our climate change commitments."

Lawrie said the council would "absolutely" be quick to move on the government announcement and seek funding to open up "this great opportunity for the district".

The timing of the government's announcement couldn't be better for the district. With the increased construction activity, including a new harbour, house prices in the small town have skyrocketed to the point residents have held protest hikoi.

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The town received government funds for the creation of a new harbour. Photo: supplied

During February, house prices increased in value far higher in Ōpōtiki than anywhere else in New Zealand.

According to CoreLogic's House Price Index, the average value of homes increased by $61,938 in February, rising from $372,639 in January to $434,577 in February.

Other areas where home values increased by more than $50,000 for the month were Whakatāne, $53,757, and Central Auckland, $50,405.

Whakatāne is the only Bay of Plenty district in which house prices are increasing in value faster than Ōpōtiki.

Over the last 12 months house prices in Whakatāne have increased 19.7 percent and house prices in Ōpōtiki have increased 19.4 percent.

Just last week, Ōpōtiki Mayor Lyn Riesterer spoke "pretty candidly" about the town's housing crisis.

"We are well above the national stats in all the worst ways and the lack of affordable and healthy housing is impacting lives and wellbeing in our community," she said.

"We have been working to take on this challenge for a long time. For Ōpōtiki Council, that means we have long been focused on a few key solutions that are within our control - an easy-to-navigate regulatory environment, a district plan that looks to encourage housing development through zoning, and careful infrastructure planning for growth coming online through many government funded projects such as the harbour development.

"We also have a role making sure that key agencies are working together and aligned to solve this complex issue."

Riesterer said she was heartened to hear that Kainga Ora was committed to building 20 to 30 additional houses in the district in the next 18 months on top of the upgrade of existing Kainga Ora housing stock.

"We are poised, ready and waiting to make the most of today's announcement," she said.

"We have the land, we have the services, we have a clear need, and we have a council that is ready to work with housing providers in the district.

"The Ōpōtiki Harbour and burgeoning aquaculture industry is transforming our district and we are determined not to let a lack of housing be the anchor holding back the social change this will bring," Riesterer said.

In addition to the billion-dollar housing infrastructure fund, the government has also extended the bright-line test to 10 years. It has also tweaked a programme to help first home buyers access government grants and loans to more people with higher incomes looking to buy more expensive homes than currently allowed.

Despite the urgent need and rising prices in the Eastern Bay, the government has not tweaked the house price cap for the region at which people can access a First Home Grant lump-sum payment, up to $5000 for an existing home or $10,000 for new properties.

For an existing property it is capped at $500,000 and for new properties it is capped at $400,000.

The average house price in Whakatāne is $612,734, Ōpōtiki $434,577 and Kawerau $339,497.

It has increased the cap for cities like Auckland, Tauranga, Hamilton and Dunedin.

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