High rents squeeze out non-profit groups

ASHLEIGH STEWART
Last updated 05:00 07/02/2014

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Cash-strapped community groups are calling for lodgings in suburban "one-stop" hubs, before the city is stripped of community support.

Not-for-profit organisations say they are being "squeezed out" of some suburbs as rents escalate and they are unable to find suitable replacements.

It is fuelling concerns the organisations will become concentrated in poorer suburbs with lower rents and other areas could lose crucial support systems.

Autism New Zealand Canterbury/West Coast branch manager Rebecca Meachan said they had moved to their current site five years ago on a temporary basis, but had not been able to find anything suitable since.

The branch is on top of Trevino's bar and restaurant in Riccarton. There is no wheelchair access and their clients have to walk past the bar and its poker machines.

Meachan said the site was "completely unsuitable".

"It was a case of making do, because there were definitely organisations worse off than us," she said.

"But we need to have a profile on the street and we need it to be accessible - but we also need to be accessible in a way that we're not out in an industrial park."

Meachan said the organisation had been "actively looking" for a new location for over a year, but a combination of skyrocketing rents and the lack of suitable alternatives meant they were stuck.

Christchurch Council of Social Services executive director Sharon Torstonson was advocating for suburban hubs modelled on the central city Christchurch Community House, where groups could share resources.

"These groups can't go anywhere else because they're part of that community," she said.

She said the inability for the community groups to afford market rents was "an issue, even anecdotally", but their loss would be greatly felt.

"There will be less cohesion in communities, people need to have these places to come together."

Community computer facility Addington Net had not renewed the lease at their site of 13 years in Addington Mall.

The rent was set to increase about $3000 annually and the lease period from two to five years.

Board secretary Wendy Butcher said while "Addington has changed", the facility - which also ran computing programmes for adults and children - was still relevant to the community.

She said the group had been "loyal when the landlord didn't have a lot of other tenants" and leniency should have been applied.

With no other option, the organisation is in negotiations to move to a site in Spreydon, about half the size of their current premises, and move stock into storage. She believed the increase would push many not-for-profit groups to poorer suburbs where they could be sustainable.

Budget adviser Kingdom Resources, also in Addington Mall, had a 62.5 per cent rental increase, which "can't not hurt". Manager John Exton had made a submission to the Christchurch City Council, campaigning for suburban hubs.

A spokesman for the owner of Addington Mall said the increase had been determined by "market rents" and there had been previous allowances made for the government-funded groups in the form of short-term leases.

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Addington Net's site had been subject to only one rent increase in the past. When the site was advertised recently it attracted three offers in one day.

"They've come off a very low base and that's the issue. It would be totally irresponsible of me, acting for a landlord, to do anything short of the best for him."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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