A Conversation on Affordable Housing

As a premium place to buy property, owners can afford to burn down homes. But for the people that keep Waiheke running, it's a different story. In the 2015-16 summer, there were rumours of 14 people renting a 2-bedroom house so they can live on the island and work in the vineyards, cafes and other essential jobs. People were sleeping in cars and hiding in tents hoping not to catch the attention of the police. The schools are finding it hard to attract and hold good teachers. Folks who have lived on the island for years, giving of their time and energy in the many volunteer groups that make Waiheke such a great place are being gentrified off the island.

What is in short supply?

  • Emergency housing
  • Senior housing
  • Key worker housing
  • Seasonal worker housing
  • Beneficiary housing
  • Low income housing
  • Artist and community-creative housing
  • Eccentric's housing

are just a few of the constituent needs not being served. Also of note is the statistic that almost 40% of the people living on Waiheke are solo persons, meaning they live alone, yet most housing is for couples and families. 

This is not a new issue. Look back to October 2000:

Essentially Waiheke - A Village and Rural Communities Strategy

Section 3.2.6 Affordable Housing: 

Affordable housing is essential for a community that is strong and diverse. Auckland City can potentially promote a range of housing options by minimising consent costs for appropriate development, and regulating for a range of housing options which will contribute to the provision of affordable housing.

Nice words, but no action. Indeed, the other day, one of our team visited the Duty Planner to discuss building affordable housing. In order to get any information, the officers require a $280 fee. In the free 15 minutes, it becomes clear that the operative district plan not only has no plans for affordable housing, but the procedures to secure discretionary approval of an innovative plan will require potentially tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, with no assurance of approval. The planner did suggest that the Local Board could use its funds to pay the Council to make a resource consent application. Not sure what happened to local democracy, but it seems the Local Board is a democratic fiction despite the best intentions of those people the community elects to lead.

How can affordable housing be built on Waiheke Island?

Solo Home in Nelson

Historic solo-person home in Nelson NZ 

Single Persons: The first distinction is to look at separate groups needing affordable housing. One of the notable aspects of housing on Waiheke is that it does not provide for single people living alone. Reportedly 40% of households on Waiheke are single people living alone.

One approach to affordable housing for this group is a cross between Oxford/Cambridge traditional college living and Papakainga housing.

  • Build 10m² chalets (AKA sleepouts, granny flats) that are exclusive for the single person. No kitchen, no bathroom.
  • 10m² lowers cost because it does not require a building consent which adds cost for paper.
  • Build a central residents hall with formal dining (one commercial kitchen and cooks), water-saving showers, laundry facilities, etc.
  • Design the chalets to provide privacy, but be part of a community, but not a commune or co-housing (which requires social buy-in)
  • Design the residents hall to provide social connection without buy-in to some form of social code (think cafe or uni rather than kibbutz)
  • Build the car parking at the entrance to the land. Provide electric bikes and golf carts to get to the buildings
  • Encourage use of electric bikes to get around Waiheke (lowers cost of living by about 25%)
  • Encourage large-scale food growing on the land to lower the cost of food with residents putting time in to plant, weed and harvest
  • Make the design a showcase of environmental, social and economic wellbeing
  • Provide for mixed use, so that some employment is on site.
  • Target a price of $165 a week rent or $120,000 purchase with parallel market criteria to ensure permanent affordability
  • Provide for a mix of ages and stages of life, including elders and first-time home buying young people.
  • Provide opportunity for long-term beneficiaries to become independent, contributing members of society

This should be simple, but with the District Plan rules, there is no definition that seems to fit. Perhap the closest is Boarding House, but that designation is not provided in appropriate zones such as Rural. Papakainga housing is actually a good model, but this requires the land is in Maori title. Public Plan changes will not be considered by the Council. The crisis is upon the island now, but the bureaucratic procedures can take years and require many expensive, $300/hour consultants to write reports that assert the adverse effects will be minor.

The second problem is the cost of land. Large blocks that are zoned for limited use may be workable, if they can use collective ownership as is found in Maori title. But the rules say that only one dwelling can be on one section, or multiple dwellings can be on one large section if subdividing would produce the same number of dwellings (in other words, clustered housing). However, a dwelling is then further limited to one household, which is defined as no more than 8 people. In rural one zone, for example, near many of the low-paying jobs in the vineyard restaurants, the density allowed is 8 people for every five hectares. 

All of this is solvable, but it probably will take some wealthy, concerned Waihekeans to provide seed capital to a charitable trust or social enterprise to get it started. Affordable housing needs land, money and private support, since it is clear that the governance and management problems within Auckland Council means the council will probably be one of the bigger problems rather than the enabler of people and communities to provide for their economic, social, cultural and environmental wellbeing.

If you are interested in such affordable housing, or in funding it, use the contact tab to get in touch. This conversation is growing as concerned Waihekeans are meeting and discussing ways forward.