We can't afford to lose the people who can't afford to live here.

Essentially Waiheke CoverIn October 2000, the Auckland City Council adopted Essentially Waiheke - A Village and Rural Communities Strategy. On their web site, Auckland Council describes this as follows:

'Essentially Waiheke - A Village and Rural Communities Strategy' was adopted by Council in October 2000. The main purpose of this document is to "establish a community approved framework for Waiheke's development and to signpost the directions towards a sustainable future, where opportunities for development are facilitated and the Island's community values and outstanding natural environment are respected and nurtured." This document was formulated after extensive consultation with the Waiheke community over two and a half years. It is a non-statutory document that is very popular with the Waiheke community.

Go to the actual document itself, and turn to page 48 to read

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.

Aim

1. A range of lifestyle options and housing choices for Waiheke Island residents.

Key Strategies & Actions

The City will:

  • Ensure accurate and timely advice is given to enable a variety of lifestyle options to occur on the Island.
  • Investigate opportunities and incentives for encouraging the market to provide a variety of housing types for all socio-economic groups within a community.
  • Research and investigate opportunities for reducing the development costs of housing through improving regulatory processes and other methods.
  • Encourage and facilitate the effective use of existing housing stock. [this one seems to have been crossed out]
  • Encourage and facilitate development of pensioner housing and retirement villages where the need for more such accommodation exists.
  • Advocate to Central Government on behalf of Auckland City communities, to encourage national housing policies that meet the needs of residents.
  • Advocate for an appropriate share of national and regional resources for affordable housing.

Nice words... what happened?  Nothing.

Instead, a new district plan was adopted that makes it very difficult to build affordable housing. Land that could be used for innovative approaches to shared dwellings is not possible without very expensive resource consents. Even going to the service centre and asking to talk about the question is met with a requirement that we must pay a $280 pre-application fee to talk to the council about what would be involved in initiating an affordable housing project. In the free 15 minutes, one is told that it will be a complicated notified hearing because no appropriate land is set aside, and one is strongly encouraged to hire a very expensive planning consultant to work through the complex rules.

In order to actually provide affordable housing we need to do several things:

  1. SurveyEstablish there is a real need. Not a statistical survey, but names & budget of real people who need affordable housing
  2. Establish what kind of housing those people need. The classic 3BR Kiwi house no longer represents today's demographi
  3. Find appropriate land that the community agrees are good places for the right designs of affordable housing
  4. Get fast-track permission to build affordable housing on the land that is affordable, appropriate and buildable
  5. Find money to staff the effort and then to buy and build.

Having attended far too many meetings on affordable housing, characterised by the word "should", a group of locals came together and decided it was time to shift from "they should" to "we will".

We started by electing a new establishment board of directors for the donee-approved, tax-exempt charitable trust, Me Aroha Waiheke Foundation. This trust, established in 2004 to serve as the donation repository for Love Matiatia was mothballed and then turned over to James Samuel for food forests. When that project was complete, he asked if it had a third life. Yes, it does. He handed it back, and several conversations were started... what to do at Matiatia, Island Transport, Marinas and Affordable Housing. Of this, the affordable housing conversation took root, and shifted from words into action. The domain aroha.net was offered to serve as the web site.

At present, the foundation is volunteer run until donations or funding can be attracted.

What is affordable housing?

The traditional rule of thumb was that 1/3rd of a person's after-tax earnings should go to rent or a mortgage. On the survey, we use the KiwiBank estimator to determine what that means in real dollars. Some examples include:

Most mortgages require a downpayment, for simplicity we set it at zero

 

What type of housing should we be looking at?

Housing typesWhen we got into this, we learned a surprising statistic. 40% of the people on Waiheke live alone and need solo housing.

For the most part, NZ builds homes for traditional families... husband, wife, growing kids... three bedrooms on a 1/4 acre section. When you move out and get a job, move into an apartment or house with other singles and share the rent. Sleep on a couch if there are not enough bedrooms. Then, when you get old, ship you off to a retirement home.

There are many other types of housing. Go to Arrowtown or Nelson and have a look at the solo homes from the 19th century. Now revived as "Tiny Homes", these designs can take advantage of a quirk of the building act. A 10m2 sleepout attached to a dwelling does not require a building consent. Given that the building consent for a dwelling can cost as much as a 10m2 building, this can contribute to affordable housing. However, the council says that no more than 8 unrelated people can live in a dwelling, which means we have a problem building a community of sleepouts.

Another idea is the Oxford University halls of residence, endowed houses that date back to the 13th century. In these buildings, solo persons have their own private space. In today's law, these can be unit titles. They do not have private kitchens, but a common dining hall in which nutritious, affordable food is prepared and served by a food staff... saving money, time and ensuring better health than solo persons cooking for themselves. In these, the balance between private and public space is critical, and they need a generous benefactor to ensure they are beautiful, not tenement slums.

There is a need for housing for transient workers. Both the farming (vineyards/olives) and the hospitality industries on the island employ transient workers, often young overseas visitors on working visas. However housing for these workers is becoming scarce and stories of 14 living in a 2-bedroom house, to the extreme annoyance of the neighbours, is becoming commonly retold. Such employers may be interested in paying for affordable housing for their workers. In Block Island, Rhode Island, USA, they had this problem decades ago, so the hospitality industry bought a vacant Victorian hotel, refurbished it and it became party central for the seasonal workers. On Waiheke, we may want to construct such a place solidly, that can be cleaned out with a fire hose, and sufficiently set apart so the parties until 4 a.m. do not disturb the neighbours.

There is of course, the need for elder housing, but in speaking with our elders, they would rather be part of a mixed community, of many ages, not shunted off to segregated housing where you have to be old to live there. Elder housing has particular needs, including accessibility, safety, a warm place in the sun and perhaps a small garden to tend. It is even better if it then includes settled, perhaps cooperative work. Look at what Billie Jordan did when she decided to invite Waiheke elders to do a flash mob.
 
Solo mums have another set of needs... shared, or quad-housing. We did some focus work with solo mums, who said they would love to have four homes built around a central shared courtyard with big bifold doors that opened up onto it. Each home would be its own private space, but everyone in the quad would be welcome when the doors were open (except not in the bedroom or other off-limits space). Mums would share the load of child raising. Would they consider opening it up to elders? Yes, having surrogate grandparents would be great. What about when one of the mums took a partner who moved in? We'll sort it out, was the answer.
 
Another housing model is the shared-work design. Here work and living space is combined, and the work has a theme. Looking at the work groups who dressed the marae, with carvers and weavers, one can imagine permanent living space that shares a craft. It could be artistic like with the marae, or it could be industrial... food production, ebike manufacturing, wine-bottle making from recycled glass. The ideas are unlimited. The challenge is getting permission.
 
As can be seen there are many housing alternatives.
 

To enable people and communities

The purpose of the RMA is to enable people and communities, so why are we not enabling them?
Mostly because housing is a profit-making industry, and it is geared toward the profitable end of the market. Thus a new profession emerged, the planning profession, in which developers retain planners to write complex reports that say to the council that the adverse effects will be minor. No one speaks for the people or the communities.
To really enable the people, we need to know who they are. Who needs enablement.
Then to enable the communities, we need to create a forum whereby the community is enabled.
This is easy on Waiheke because we know how to find our communities... we are defined by our shoreline.
We have many communities. One are the communities of employers, the hospitality industry, vineyards, construction.
Another are the communities of volunteers, those folks who show up to meetings and pitch in. There are many of these from Marae to Pony Club, from sports clubs to church groups. We have singing groups, dancing and theatre, film and video, sailing, rugby, adult riding, the golf club, mountain bike, dirt track, fishing, fire brigade, Garden Safari, Grey Power, Ratepayers associations, the political parties, kindies, Steiner, the school groups, the Rotary and RSA, the list is huge.
They all need an invitation to have their say.
 

And then, when we know what we want, let's do it... now, not 16 years from now.

 

All You Need Is Love