Wellington Scoop

Counting the houses


It’s a popular political habit – to include existing work in announcements of new programmes. And so it was yesterday when Justin Lester announced “at least 750 new units” of social and affordable housing plan. His total included 105 units that are already being built at his council’s Arlington site.

And the mayor invited reporters to hear his “major development … new approach” announcement at the construction site in Hopper Street.

The Arlington social housing re-development was announced by the city council last June.

… bounded by Taranaki and Hopper streets, [it’s been] cleared in preparation for a $33million makeover of the site. The redevelopment will provide affordable, flexible, high-quality homes that are modern, warm, safe and secure. The 105 new apartments will provide space for 324 residents – almost double the 166 residents in the old apartments [that were demolished].

Arlington Site 2 is being redeveloped by a consortium including Hawkins Construction, Novak+Middleton, Dunning Thornton, Boffa Miskell, Stephenson and Turner, Beca, Motm, Holmes Fire, Acousafe and Stantiall Studio.

As the council said in its announcement last June:

The project is the latest stage in the City Council’s Housing Upgrade Programme – a $400 million programme jointly funded with the Crown. The programme to upgrade the Council’s social housing – most of it dating from the 1960s and 1970s – has been under way since 2008.

Mayor Wade-Brown made a similar commitment to social housing, when she announced in May last year:

The Council has set three priorities for its social housing vision through to 2040 including quality housing, fit for purpose and in the right place, getting the best results through innovation and smart partnerships, and sustainable social housing that is affordable for tenants and affordable for the city. The Council is committed to spending another $180million over the next 10 years to complete its $400million Housing Upgrade Programme which began in 2008.

And in the same announcement last May, Paul Eagle (then, as now, responsible for social housing) said:

“We’ve agreed to retain ownership of our social housing to at least 2037 and continue in-house delivery of social housing services. We provide just under 50% of all social housing in the city and we’ve built that up over 75 years. We know our tenants are struggling to make ends meet. So we’ve asked council officers to make sure affordability for tenants is properly understood before considering changes to the structure for rental subsidies. We’re extremely proud of what’s been achieved since the Housing Upgrade Programme kicked-off in 2008.”

In yesterday’s announcement, Cr Eagle covers similar ground. He acknowledges that the new plan is “building on a decade of earthquake strengthening key complexes and upgrading existing social housing.” But he reckons that things are somehow going to be different from the past:

“The focus changes now. We will now be proactively working with partners to develop new sites, build new homes, and seeing more affordable homes built at the same time.”

We have to wait a few days to find out how the focus is to be changed from the previous busy years. The mayor will be presenting his “new programme” and his “new approach” to councillors next week. He says he will be launching a “range of new developments to meet housing issues.”

One of the differences may be the inclusion of “affordable homes” in the council’s mix. The mayor says these will aimed at first home buyers. Not renters. Nevertheless he also promises “a net increase in our social housing units.” Let’s welcome his commitment, or re-commitment, to social housing, in spite of the hype. And let’s talk more about the details when they are announced.

Let’s also acknowledge that the city council’s social housing team has long had a reputation for excellence. In 2012 it won three awards in Australia and four more in New Zealand. There were a further two awards in 2013 and another in 2014. Evidence that the council should be proud of its social housing achievements, even before debating the need for a new focus.