Making a dent in Tākaka's housing shortage

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 13 December 2022

The shortage of affordable housing is just as acute in small towns as it is in big cities. The Detail returns to Tākaka to check progress on a project to build 100 homes for families in the area.

A small house is under construction on a plot of grassy land. There is scaffolding around the structure and the exterior walls are not yet finished. There is a shipping container to the right with building materials strewn around it. It is a cloudy day.

House Number Five in Chris Bennett's plan to build 100 affordable homes in Golden Bay. Photo: Sharon Brettkelly

In a paddock on the outskirts of Tākaka, in Golden Bay, sits a nearly-finished three-bedroom house. 

It doesn't look special, but it is. 

This is House Number Five in an ambitious plan by the Golden Bay/Mohua Affordable Housing Project to build 100 affordable homes - and one of the things that make this house special is that it'll cost just over $200,000 to build.

The project's executive director Chris Bennett sits on the half-built verandah telling The Detail the story behind this house: about the solo mother of two who never thought she would be a home-owner, her mother who lives next door and owns the land, the builder who keeps costs down by charging half the usual rate, and the local people putting money into the project so more affordable homes can be built in Golden Bay.

"We're now up to house number five, we're finishing right now and we've got numbers six to nine ready to come off. So, we're really refining our process for how to build a house efficiently and as affordable as practical," says Bennett.

This house will eventually be owned by Carina Faetz under a rent-to-own scheme. She'll pay the trust that runs the scheme $300 a week for the first three years to cover rent and the cost of the land lease.

"After that three-year period we shift into the ownership phase and so the actual cost of the build is reduced over time as she pays that rent," Bennett explains. 

Chris Bennett sits on the deck of an unfinished house. He is wearing a navy long sleeved shirt and dark coloured pants and shoes. He smiles at the camera. The house is covered in scaffolding.

Chris Bennett is the chief executive officer of the Mohua/Golden Bay Affordable Housing Project. Photo: Sharon Brettkelly

He wants to build the homes faster for the 80-odd families on a waiting list, but points out a number of blockages causing delays, including the many rules and regulations he has to comply with.

"All of these rules make sense but they add a very large tax onto what we're trying to do," Bennett says.

On top of that, the difficulty of finding land as well as the rising cost of materials are pushing the house price from his earlier goal of $150,000 to $200,000.

But Bennett prefers to focus on the positive aspects, including the generosity of local people and the support of Tasman District Council.

The Detail talks to Faetz and her mother Lolly Dadley-Moore about what the project means to them, as well as Tasman District Councillor Chris Hill, about why this sparsely populated region is so desperately short of housing.

"Housing changed quite a while ago where house prices went through the roof. A lot of people came in buying holiday homes. Something like a third of our homes here are empty," she says.    

"Affordable housing is very hard to find unless you do something different and there's a different model which is what this project provides."

A photo of a country road taken from the roadside. On the far side is a lot with trucks and stacks of crates sitting idle. The grass is full of wildflowers. It is a sunny, blue sky day.

The site of Chris Bennett's next big project: pensioner housing. Photo: Sharon Brettkelly

Project foreman Rodney Watson says he likes being part of a project that's a not-for-profit.

"It is essentially purely to provide accommodation as efficiently as we can."

Bennett also shows The Detail a plot of land in Tākaka set aside for his next development: 14 pensioner flats. 

"If we build this we can pretty much eliminate the need for pensioner flats in Golden Bay for those low income people. This is really important because people who leave Golden Bay because they can't find a place to live, because they don't have wheelchair-accessible houses, they lose their social networks, their families."

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