Regent park Wellington City Council Housing
Wellington shows local government leadership with diverse housing initiatives
“Stable housing is important – it sets up our platform for later life,” Wellington Mayor Justin Lester reminded us in his welcome address. “Every kid should have the same opportunities for the stability that good housing creates.”
Justin knows the difference it made in his own life and he wants to see that it’s there for others. Good, affordable housing is his focus for the leadership that Wellington City Council provides, and it was the consistent refrain he heard from Wellingtonians during his election campaign.
Justin wants to see hundreds, if not thousands, more homes built in Wellington over the next 10 years. He believes that if Wellington can show local leadership to address the housing affordability shortfalls, other local authorities can follow their example.
The Wellington Mayor’s Housing Taskforce wants to drive change through housing accords and housing growth; changes in planning for greater density; rate rebates for new home owners; restructuring housing and consents for a one-stop shop; increasing affordable rental stock; and BUILD Wellington, a new urban authority to create more developments, amongst other initiatives.
Mayor Lester announced Wellington City Council’s plan to enter the private-rental market by offering renovated office blocks as affordable rental accommodation at CHA IMPACT 2017. The Council will take on the long-term leases and work with local community housing providers to set up the new initiative.
Some of the settings, though, aren’t encouraging Wellington to stay in the area of social housing – and he’s referring to the lack of income-related rent subsidies and the trend we’ve seen by other local authorities (Horowhenua and Hamilton are two) to sell their housing to community housing providers.
Is there a role for a nationwide Mayor’s Taskforce for housing or homelessness as exists for employment across the country? Justin thinks there is and says mayors are already talking about these issues. Of Wellington, he says “If we can actually do it and show it’s working well, it’s a good insight for other councils. We’re just going to get on with it.”
Head of Infrastructure NZ Steven Selwood believes that New Zealand could lead the world in infrastructure and housing development – but we make it complicated. He believes if we really want to make a difference, we need to scale up and stop doing a little bit everywhere. We need to explore other ways and other innovations that will deliver good outcomes for New Zealanders.
Australians turning local leadership of policy into local leadership of delivery
Chief Executive of Australia’s NAHC (National Affordable Housing Consortium) Mike Myers showed what some of the large-scale developments look like in Australia. Mike says Australia has faced the same problems in housing that New Zealand faces: shortfalls in good rental housing, high social housing waiting lists, and falling rates of home ownership.
Mike’s message is that the sector can work together to build capacity. In Australia, local government has worked with the private sector to develop 3,500 homes, without any grants from Government.
“To plan and build new communities takes a long time,” Mike says “but it all starts with planning.” All local authorities in Australia now have economic and social development plans. It’s about planning for the economic and social development of communities, including land use, infrastructure and housing for all parts of the community now and into the future.
“Our job is to show local leadership by providing opportunities to do things differently and corralling the partnerships and strategic relationships to show that a local leadership of policy can be turned into a local leadership of delivery.”
How the wider community engages with the plan and how we maximise community ‘ownership’ of the outcomes depends on these strategic relationships. Mike pointed to examples of successful partnerships, such as City Deals in Townsville and Sydney West.
Western Bay of Plenty’s local government response to Māori housing
Strategic partnerships at a local government level are a central part of the Western Bay of Plenty’s local response to Māori housing in an area where 22,000 acres is in Māori land ownership and demand for housing is high.
Victoria Kingi of Papakainga Solutions talked about the planning barriers experienced by local Māori who wanted to build on Māori land. The barriers led to the formation of a joint agency group,JAG, that pulled together local and regional councils, Māori Land Court, Housing New Zealand, and Te Puni Kōkiri representatives.
What started off as a fractious relationship, Victoria says, has developed into a meaningful relationship with significant results. These include a Māori housing strategy, Māori Housing forums, Papakainga workshops, a facilitator role, and the development of over 100 quality homes on Māori land. Their strategic focus aligns with the national Māori Housing Strategy.
Victoria says research is essential to measure the outcomes and the wellbeing of these new communities. She reported that the JAG was well on the way to reaching its goal of 250 homes built on Māori land by 2020.
Local government leadership in housing makes a big difference in Christchurch
Principal Advisor Social Policy at Christchurch City Council Paul Cottam says the Council provides leadership in addressing housing need because the wellbeing of their community is what housing is about. In Christchurch, 50% of residents sit at the bottom 4% of wealth.
“It’s an ethical and moral issue how local governments deal with housing in their area. When it comes to well-being housing is not just a passive bystander that stands on the side line.”
“Our vision is that all people in Christchurch have access to housing that is secure, safe, affordable, warm, and dry. This is the building block of strong communities. We see it as a health and community infrastructure issue – adequate housing supports wellbeing and strong communities.”
The Council wants a proper demand-driven housing analysis “to know what sort of houses we really need to plan for”. They want to get the best out of their plan with informed targets and actions that more actively assist the community housing sector to support affordable housing development.
Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust (OCHT) was set up last year to address financial viability issues for the Council’s $250 million rental-housing asset. Not wanting to divest their assets like other councils have, they set up the Trust which can access income-related rent subsidies where Council couldn’t.
OCHT is an independent charitable trust and registered community housing provider with the Council having minority representation on the Trust. OCHT is the landlord, undertaking tenancy management, rent-setting, and day-to-day maintenance. The Council undertakes major repairs, renewals, and new developments.
“Council owns the units and leases them to the Trust, and the Trust pays a lease fee to the Council,” says Paul. “Besides financial sustainability, this new arrangement has other objectives: to improve the quality of the housing, increase tenant satisfaction, and allow for new developments.”
Diversifying their housing leadership further, the Council is involved in the Christchurch Housing Accord that is largely a market orientated housing response. Paul says the Council wants to use it as best they can and are adding value through Government and Council shared-equity schemes alongside the New Zealand Housing Foundation.
“We are trying to put the ‘social’ back into the ‘spatial’ to create a real collective-impact approach.”
All over the country, local authorities are delivering a range of responses in the area of social and affordable housing – these are examples of how local government can provide the leadership to create the housing solutions so badly needed in their local communities.