Council ponders affordable housing market

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 12/02/2014

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The city council is considering stepping into the affordable rental housing market to help alleviate Christchurch's accommodation shortage.

In the clearest indication yet of its intent to become more involved in Christchurch's housing market, the council's housing committee yesterday voted unanimously to recommend the council begin urgent consultation with the public over its role in providing affordable housing - particularly rental housing - in the city.

The council's decision came as its housing committee considered a report on the possibility of relocating red-zoned homes onto council land for use either as social or affordable housing.

The consultation is legally required under the Local Government Act because affordable housing is not an activity the council has previously been involved in.

"The affordable rental housing problem is massive," said Deputy Mayor Vicki Buck.

"We have to do something, even with all the financial constraints we have got."

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said anything that could alleviate the "absolute minefield" that was Christchurch's housing shortage was a good thing.

"We lost about 10,000 homes because of the earthquake, there are thousands of homes that need to be relocated and 20,000 to 25,000 tradespeople are expected to come into Christchurch.

"Put all that together and we have got a major problem. Anything we can do to alleviate the housing shortage in our city needs to be welcomed."

Construction company boss David Reid, who has been pushing the idea of relocating red-zone homes for use as affordable housing, told the committee it was running out of time as the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) wanted the land cleared this year and the available housing stock was steadily depleting.

"This is our last shot at doing something with this housing," said Reid, who suggested using relocated homes would be about 20 per cent cheaper than building new ones.

Former mayor Garry Moore, representing the Canterbury Co-operative Land Trust, said it was possible to shift 400 to 500 homes from the red zone and challenged the council to take the lead in ensuring they were reused locally, where there was a desperate need.

"What we're saying is do not destroy 400 to 500 homes if we can save them," Moore said.

Council social policy principal adviser Paul Cottam said there was a need for more social and affordable housing in Christchurch.

A Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation assessment last year had found the number of "financially stressed" renting households was increasing. That analysis had pointed towards growing demand for more affordable one and two-bedroom housing.

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Given that, it could be beneficial for the council to make use of some of the relocatable red-zone housing, Cottam said. However, he warned the council would need to be prepared to debt finance the purchase of such housing.

He said some parcels of council-owned land had been identified as suitable sites for housing but the council might need to go through the "offer back" process of the Public Works Act before it could use it.

That would take time and money.

The committee voted in principle to support the relocation of red-zoned houses onto council land and asked staff to identify land where a small-scale trial of up to 10 units of affordable rental accommodation could be sited.

"Affordable housing is the biggest problem we have at the moment," Cr Paul Lonsdale said.

Housing committee chairman Cr Glenn Livingstone said there was "proof of concept" as Housing New Zealand had already moved to make use of red-zoned houses to expand its housing stock.

Tenants Protection Association manager Helen Gatonyi said some rebuild workers were already having to "sleep rough" on people's couches or in overcrowded environments.

"They are having to be innovative in terms of where they live. It is not an ideal situation. Good on [the council] for looking at every possibility for increasing capacity," she said.

- The Press

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