Focus on getting the housing mix right

SEAN BIGNELL
Last updated 05:00 06/11/2012

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OPINION: Housing New Zealand is primarily responsible for housing some of the country's most vulnerable citizens. While developing good housing for our tenants we can also contribute to increasing social and private housing supply.

The clear focus of our redevelopments is to meet demand for state rental housing, but we can also make use of a good opportunity to free up under-utilised land for both social housing and private entry level housing, which will contribute to addressing the need to increase housing supply.

Housing needs are dynamic and, to be effective, we need to be agile and know where the demand is going to be before it happens. We use a sophisticated forecasting model that takes into account broad social and economic changes as well as demographic projections as a lead indicator to inform our planning.

This tells us where demand is high and low, and what size homes will be required. We then match this against the number of properties we have and the land we have available.

Everyone could predict that we'd need more housing in Auckland of course, but what this tells us is that we need more smaller-sized properties in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.

In some areas we need more large homes too. Alongside this we have areas where the demand for high-priority housing is low and is resulting in vacant properties that we have difficulty letting.

At this point we basically have some choices.

We could take the traditional approach and add more housing to areas of high demand that are already dense with state housing and leave our vacant houses in areas of low demand to run down and be subject to vandalism or theft.

I think it is fair to say that this approach has resulted in some significant negatives like marginalising communities that have a high level of state housing and increased levels of crime through theft and vandalism of vacant properties.

Another option is to improve communities and social outcomes by decreasing the density of state housing in some areas so that state housing is not the thing that sets that community apart.

We believe that this approach will lead to better, safer communities, and improved social outcomes that are sustainable over time. There is, of course, research to support this.

Our vision for the future is that state houses are part of healthy, sustainable, mixed communities and this is where our part in addressing housing supply comes in.

Over the next 10 years we will realign our portfolio to match current and future demand by building, acquiring or reconfiguring properties.

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One of the ways we will do this is by freeing up some of our under-used land so that a mix of state housing, private rental and affordable housing can be established.

To get there we will be partnering with businesses and iwi organisations as well as other government agencies and local authorities.

We are making good progress on these plans with the recent announcement of our partnership with City Living to redevelop housing in Pomare, Lower Hutt.

Other plans include building between 200 and 350 new homes in Christchurch. At least 200 of these will be specifically for replacing damaged state housing, with the balance providing housing options for others in need.

We are also currently working on several Auckland housing projects to address demand, including a 24-hectare, 450 to 500 house development in Papakura, of which around 70 per cent will be for private ownership.

There is no doubt that our redevelopment projects are ambitious and that our approach to create sustainable communities is a little harder than just adding more housing to communities already crowded with state housing.

However, we strongly believe that sustainable long-term redevelopment planning that addresses demand, while improving communities and social outcomes, is worth the effort.

- Sean Bignell is General Manager, Asset Development, for Housing New Zealand.

- The Dominion Post

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