'Severe' housing stress forecast

More intensive housing could be allowed in Christchurch amid fears the housing shortage is about to worsen.

Solutions would include splitting big houses into two flats, putting two units on vacant house sites, turning granny flats into stand-alone homes, and letting under-60s into pensioner units.

In a report going to a special Christchurch City Council meeting today, senior staff will recommend changes pushed for by Earthquake Minister Gerry Brownlee to fit more homes on existing plots.

Brownlee had told the new council a scheme approved last month would not be enough to handle a ''housing pinch'' expected between 2014 and 2017.

The scheme, part of the draft Land Use Recovery Plan (Lurp) also frees up new greenfields land for housing development. The revised plan is a compromise. 

The council had been happy to allow splitting of larger homes and wider use of family flats in higher density neighbourhoods, but had balked at allowing two units on house sites and putting younger residents into elderly persons' units, citing social and space problems.

The previous version set a target for 18,000 new households in existing urban areas in 15 years.

Today's proposals would boost that. 

Mayor Lianne Dalziel said the changes would raise housing density near existing schools, shops and transport, ''and that makes perfect sense''.  

''We cannot keep developing greenfields and have mass urban sprawl,'' she said.

Brownlee said yesterday that while the proposals were ''a step in the right direction'' they did not go far enough and comprehensive planning could add 30,000 homes to urban sites. 

He hoped the council's upcoming review of the district plan would bring further changes.

Brownlee said the aim was to improve the quality of high-density housing, reduce housing costs by trimming the land component, and get rid of conflicting rules.

The Lurp, put together under Earthquake Recovery laws by the Christchurch, Waimakariri and Selwyn councils, as well as Environment Canterbury and Transport New Zealand, determines where future housing would go by changing city and district plans.

Canterbury University economics senior lecturer Eric Crampton welcomed the proposed changes and said the council now needed to get the details right on aspects like parking and access.

The redrawn plan would let new homes spring up organically where needed, not where officials decided, and spread the extra density across the city, he said.

''I'm really, really happy that they're finally doing this. For council to take 1000 days to decide it's not illegal to put a flat into a house - it should not have taken that long and Cera pushing it to make it happen.''

The council's report forecasts that ongoing repairs and the arrival of rebuild workers will put ''severe stress'' on the housing pool and on rents already at record levels.

The Press