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Is Chch in grip of a housing crisis?

Last updated 05:00 27/02/2013
Michelle Robinson
Stacy Squires

OPEN HOME: Real estate agent Michelle Robinson.

House for rent
John Kirk-Anderson
FOR RENT: Average rents in central Christchurch have leapt 26 per cent. Pictured is a home in Carlton Mill Road.

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Is there a housing crisis in Christchurch? The Press examined statistics, attended open homes and spoke to experts and members of the public. Anna Turner reports.

Difficult, pressured, heated - yes. But a crisis where ordinary people can't buy or rent homes and flats and many homeless are roaming the streets or living in cars - No.

Those are the findings of a two-week investigation by The Press.

High and average income earners were simply in a more competitive market, with people having to pay more and make an offer faster to get a house.

People on low incomes and benefits, as usual, were suffering the most, The Press inquiry found.

Residential property prices were up across the city since the earthquakes - but not outrageously - and the number of homes being sold was at a level similar to before the earthquakes.

Figures from the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) showed median house prices across Christchurch city have risen 8 per cent from January 2010 to January 2013. The median house price in January 2013 was $28,800 more than in January 2010.

Median house prices in Auckland rose 13 per cent in the past three years and the median price of an Auckland house sold in January 2013 was almost $60,000 more than it was in January 2010.

Timaru's median house price rose 20.4 per cent from January 2010 to January 2013, while on the West Coast the median rose 10 per cent.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee told The Press he would say Christchurch had a housing crisis only when "people simply have no alternative for somewhere to live".

"There are alternatives out there at the moment. There is simply no evidence of a housing crisis in Christchurch."

Independent Property Managers Association president Martin Evans said "prices have gone up, but there are still houses available".

The Press' investigation found Christchurch's rental market was closer to crisis than the property market.

Tenants Protection Agency manager Helen Gatonyi said many of the issues of substandard housing and poor access to housing were there before the earthquakes.

"There have always been these issues around housing and people who are living in houses of a poor condition. There have always been people living in garages and sleepouts. It's not new," she said.

"It's just more visible now and people have to live in that kind of housing for longer than they did before the earthquakes because there are fewer options."

Trade Me figures showed in Christchurch the average rent was up 26 per cent between the last quarters of 2012 and 2011.

Nationally, rents went up almost everywhere - rents were up 7 per cent and 5 per cent in Dunedin and Hamilton respectively - but Christchurch had the biggest increase.

The central city showed the highest increase in average rent - at 26 per cent - while average rents in Riccarton and St Albans were up 21 per cent. At the same time, supply in Christchurch was down 18 per cent from the same period in 2011 and the number of inquiry emails Trade Me received per property was up 22 per cent.

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Despite the increases, Harcourts Holmwood property manager Bridgette Tapley said the market was "not in as bad a state as people thought".

Rumours about the rental market were creating unnecessary panic, she said.

"People ring me every day in a panic when they don't need to be. Rents haven't really gone sky-high.

"People are just panicking and deciding it's too hard before they even try to get a rental. I have a nice property for $400 a week that I simply can't rent."

Kennard Real Estate director Colin Lock said the rental figures in Christchurch were "misleading".

"If you take a snapshot of all the figures across the whole rental market you'd think rents had gone through the roof.

"There's two distinct markets - people renting fully-furnished properties at a higher price for a short time and people renting properties long-term for lower prices," Lock said.

His own rentals had gone up an average of 11 per cent in the year to January 2013.

"My insurance has virtually doubled and my rates are up. The tenants aren't being ripped off by the average landlord."

Independent landlord Pam Shadbolt raised her rents about 8 per cent since the earthquakes, but believed it was fair considering increases in insurance and rates.

"I have some long-term tenants in there that I don't want to lose. I am fair with my rents - I don't want to be at the top end of rents or the bottom. I have heard stories that some people are playing the market hard, though."

Christchurch's rental rises, however, do not seem out of sync with the rest of New Zealand.

REINZ figures showed the median rent for a two-bedroom unit in Christchurch's central city had increased $43 in the past three years. In Auckland, a two-bedroom unit in the central city went up $50 during the same period.

Some areas in Christchurch are being shunned by renters. One independent landlord told The Press people had not wanted to rent his New Brighton property.

"[The property] was a family home, fully fenced, double garage. Rent was still very low through Harcourts - $230 for a three bedroom - but the roadworks put people off. I think people are being too picky."

Tony Brazier, of Braziers Property Investors, blamed news reports.

"The news is actually highlighting people who have problems finding property anyway. What's happened now is the landlords don't have to take those people who don't bother paying or have a terrible credit rating or pit bull dogs."

Mayor Bob Parker said he had never spoken to anybody, even those who were struggling, who hadn't been able to find somewhere in the end.

The Press spoke to many people who said they had found a rental easily.

Kim Thompson said: "We moved after all the earthquakes, have an awesome house with fabulous landlords and great rent."

Serra Kilduff said while it took her longer than usual to find a nice place, she and her partner managed it.

"It took a couple of months to find a place that wasn't falling down, had insulation and heating, a garden, and wasn't $600 a week. We have been very lucky in finally finding a great place with fantastic landlords."

Christchurch's social housing also failed to reflect a city-wide crisis. Housing New Zealand had recorded a marked decrease in the number of people on its waiting list for social housing units - dropping from 744 people in 2010 to 195 in 2013.

However, the average wait time for someone on the list to get a house has grown to 22 days, compared with 13.5 days before the September 2010 quake.

The number of people on the Christchurch City Council's social housing waiting list was very similar to pre-quake levels. In March 2010 there were 324 people waiting for a social housing unit compared to 342 on the list in 2013.

However, welfare agencies suggested these statistics may be misleading. Gatonyi said many people failed to meet the criteria to get on the list: "You've got to show you're in substantial or extreme hardship to get a property. A lot of people are applying and not meeting the criteria."

Others did not bother applying for the houses because they knew there was "no point".

The Press will address the issues around social housing in a further story in tomorrow's newspaper.

BY THE NUMBERS

~ 7800 homes were red-zoned in Christchurch as a result of the earthquakes and another 9000 were classified uninhabitable.

~ A total of 599 consents for new dwellings have been issued since September 4, 2010.

~ Registered Master Builders Federation boss Warwick Quinn has estimated there will be 20,000 new dwellings built by 2017.

~ According to Statistics New Zealand figures the population of the city declined by about 13,500 people, or 3.6 per cent, from before the earthquakes until June 2012.

~ More than 2500 properties that were renting for less than $300 a week have been removed from the market. More than 250 boarding house units renting for $150 or less per week were destroyed by the earthquakes and were not replaced.

~ The Canterbury Earthquake Temporary Accommodation Service (Cetas) has housed 271 households in its temporary villages, assisted 1000 households into private rental accommodation and is currently paying 1300 households temporary accommodation financial assistance.

~ Trade Me figures showed a 4.8 per cent drop in "for sale" listings between the last quarter of 2012 and 2011.

- The Press

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