Planning for Housing

Why isn’t housing part of the Long Term Plan?

Tūranganui-a-kiwa has a housing crisis. The problem may be nation-wide, but it is amplified here. House prices locally have gone up faster in this latest boom than almost any other part of the country. There is basically nothing to rent. And of the one or two properties that might be available at any given moment on TradeMe, they are more than a rip off; the prices are unconscionable.

Sure, if you’re on the right side of the divide there’s no problem. You’ve just been given tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, without having to lift a finger. 

But if you’re on the wrong side of the divide, the prospect of owning a house just vanished. You might be sleeping at your relative’s house, staying in overcrowded accommodation, or have flatmates you don’t want. If you’re lucky enough to have a rental, your rental payments are almost certainly higher than your landlord’s mortgage repayments; so to top it all off, your landlord is almost effortlessly accumulating wealth while you may be working yourself into the ground and unable to even save for a deposit.

“If something about this story feels wrong, that’s because it is wrong”

We need to change it, but change isn’t going to happen by itself and in order for it to be effective it must be approached in a systematic way.

Housing Article image
Who has said Goodbye to their dreams of ever owning a home lately? How many have found themselves without a place to call home?

That is why we need to make sure that housing is part of our Long Term Plan in Tūranganui-a-kiwa.

So why isn’t housing in the Long Term Plan? I honestly don’t know. I’ve asked, but haven’t received a satisfactory answer. Maybe the Council isn’t aware that they can make a difference? Maybe it just seemed too hard? Maybe it’s not a top priority? Maybe it’s not clear how to fix the problem? Maybe the infrastructure costs to facilitate more housing seem too high? Maybe the Council feels that it’s the Central Government’s responsibility to fix such things? 

It doesn’t really matter what the reason is. The reality is that there are a great number of people in Te Tairāwhiti – often people who don’t have a voice – who lack quality affordable housing, and this is a major issue affecting their lives. For many, remedying their housing situation is not an issue they can solve by themselves. For many more, the socioeconomic system they are entangled in prevents and disempowers them from doing so. 

“To be clear, I’m not just talking about people in the bottom 10%, or people who are homeless, or people who are in social housing. I’m talking about people who work full time and earn the median annual salary. I’m talking about your “average” person too”.

The housing crisis is affecting a large cross-section of our community, and it touches one of our most fundamental human rights – the right to adequate housing that ensures the wellbeing and upholds the dignity of every person.

If housing is an issue affecting so many of us in this region, surely we have to include it in our Long Term Plan. We need to look at how we can move towards quality affordable housing. To overlook it, for whatever reason, is an injustice to our community. Of course the Central Government must work on the issue at the same time, but to ignore the agency of Local Council and its responsibility to look after its community will only lead to the perpetuation of growing inequalities. For some, this road will end in hospital, having been afflicted with health issues arising from inadequate shelter; others will gravitate towards gangs as a means to try to regain control over their lives and better their personal circumstances. 

While the solution to our housing problem isn’t solely within the Council’s domain, the remedy will require action from the Central Government all the way through to the individual. There are plenty of steps our Council can take towards affordable quality housing.

As a start let’s put housing on the agenda and include it in the Long Term Plan. Then let’s also make it part of a short term plan. After that, the Council can look at its planning rules and policies, identify which ones slow down the development of housing, and eliminate them. It’s an absolute pain to develop housing, especially if you want to do anything different. What’s the problem with apartments? What’s the big deal with tiny houses? Why can’t we go ahead and convert the garage if we use professionals?

“We need to stop making it illegal to easily improve the housing situation”.

And while we are here let’s look at what sort of things will encourage more housing to be built, especially that which will increase density. And then let’s do it. We live in a country with some of the lowest density in the world; in that country, we live in a city with even lower density. Just because people aren’t used to change doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. What is worse, people sleeping in apartments or cars? Studios or emergency housing? My wife and I lived in a small one-bedroom apartment for four years, and it was great. There’s nothing wrong with a three, four, five story building with a number of dwellings (remember it’s not density that creates slums, it’s poverty. Is New York City one massive slum?) 

If infrastructure is what’s holding housing up, then fix it. Don’t tell me that some people can’t have a house because we don’t know how to fund a sewage pipe. Find a way. Crowdfund if you have to. 

Housing has a massive influence on the quality of people’s lives, and the current system is growing inequalities between those that have it and those that don’t. Within this context, Māori and Pasifika populations are almost always dealt the bad hand. The situation as it stands continues to sustain and promote inadequate housing for Māori and Pasifika and is a clear example of systemic racism that must be uprooted. 

If we are going to make a difference to our housing crisis, we have to make housing a priority. We can’t ignore it. The problem is only going to get worse if we sit on our hands. So let’s put it on the agenda, make it part of the plan, make some changes and move forward.

By Zane Sabour
Photograph Sarah Cleave | Model Alex Andrews
This story was written with the support of Gizzy Local.

Check out www.lowcosthousing.co.nz for information about Zane & his research into affordable housing in Aotearoa.

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