The Eye of the Fish

July 24, 2009

Affordable Housing

It’s nice to be able to talk about good things happening in the Wellington architectural market, and the recent announcement in the DomPost about the new replacements for the WCC Regent Park flats is, to me, really good news. Despite not mentioning who the architect is, they did at least provide a picture to entice us – and outwardly at least, this looks like any other developer housing:
We discussed affordable housing a short while ago, and my suggestion that some affordable housing be incorporated into a wide range of developments, including down at the waterfront, got a few really sharp replies, including these 2 from our contributor Honeywood:

“I also don’t get why we need council flats on the waterfront. To make us feel virtuous? Should we insist on low cost housing in Roseneath or Khandallah every time someone builds a townhouse? This isn’t urban planning but social engineering.”


“The WCC is already the second biggest provider of low cost housing in the country after the government – should they provide more? When it’s left to developers (or, worse, required of them) the results are not good. Witness the shoebox slums of central Auckland built for a disappearing international student market and funded by naïve Moms and Pops everywhere.”

Its a damn good question, and one that I don’t have a quick glib answer for: where and why should we provide for low-cost housing? And who should provide it? The (80s and 90s) answer to the second part of the question is easier than the first: “the market should provide, of course.” We live in a market society, and so we live, and die, by the market. Currently we’re doing a lot of dying by it of course, but so it’s interesting to see the Council enter the fray and really tackle the housing problem head on. Because currently, its not as if the market is going to be doing any of that.

So, at the WCC, under the guiding hand of a housing team with a good amount of experience in providing social housing: “the most radical plan is for the 38 dilapidated units at Regent Park flats, in Owen St, which are home mainly to single people in bedsits” and that plan is to replace the run-down units with “28 two- and three-bedroom townhouse units to accommodate up to 140 people.” As far as I understand, standards at the new units will be raised significantly from the existing run-down, badly insulated housing – and so hence resident’s lives should be improved significantly as well. One of the key driving factors in the redevelopments is to create larger units, not smaller, which goes well against the current market trends as noted by Honeywood above.

So the real answer to the question about who should provide social housing certainly at the moment seems to be the local Council, by employing good local architects; certainly that rather than relying on developers and the rate of returns required by the ‘markets’. There has been a lot of discussion in the press, by a wide range of people that really should know what they’re talking about: are we really seeing the end of Capitalism as we knew it?

24 - 07 - 09

I suspect the transition from bedsits to family units is being driven in part by this being the first stage of a 20 year plan to renovate all of council’s housing stock,

Creating a number of new family sized units allows the council to relocate groups from the nearby complexes ( Te Ara Hou and Newtown Park ) while they are upgraded,

But according to this, it does appear to also be part of a large plan to match the needs of tenants re: family sizes etc)

In terms of timing for the local construction industry, it could not have been better.

24 - 07 - 09

Maximus – not sure if you got all the images I flicked to you last night – but if you want to know the names of all the firms involved on the upgrades announced yesterday then just say the word and i’ll find out.
Richard MacLean – WCC Ext Comms

24 - 07 - 09

Thanks Richard – its always good to acknowledge the people involved, so that would be good. I’m presuming that this scheme is by Architecture Plus ? as it has some possibly family resemblance to some of their other work.

24 - 07 - 09

Te Ara Hou – Novak & Middleton
Central Park – Novak & Middleton
Marshall Court – Design Group Stapleton Elliott
Regent Park – Design Group Stapleton Elliott

24 - 07 - 09

I’m a big fan of the way that the WCC handles social housing, mixing it in each suburb. It means that you don’t get entire suburbs of social housing (I used to live on a council estate in the UK). It means that the poor people aren’t hidden nicely away, they’re integrated into the community. Putting all the nasty, nasty poor people out of sight leads to a lot of social ills, and I think that from an urban design perspective, avoiding ghettos is probably a good thing.

24 - 07 - 09

Thanks Richard for that. It’s good to see some work going to practices other than Athfields and WAM for a change!

Jack – absolutely right. Although I think there must be some ghettos somewhere in the City. sorry – somewhere in the Suburbs. Although I’m not entirely sure where that is in Wellington. Porirua City has got – well, most of Porirua, and the Hutt certainly has the Hutt. Welly has, umm, not sure.

24 - 07 - 09

So totally agree with this: “I’m a big fan of the way that the WCC handles social housing, mixing it in each suburb. It means that you don’t get entire suburbs of social housing”.

I seem to remember some parts of Wellington like Strathmore and Newtown used to feel quite run down. But they’re getting better as house prices have gone up. Certainly there are small pockets like Newtown Park Flats, and those flats opposite WHS and similar that have a history of being pretty yuck places.

So while I agree with Jack’s above statement that spreading them around the city is good, I’d prefer to see these one big block of fenced social housing types of developments scrubbed out entirely. Social housing should have a boundary and label of any sort. Build mixed developments where 10-20% of the units (or some other figure) is owned by the Council or Housing NZ for social housing and the rest is normal market based housing and spread them around even more.

24 - 07 - 09

Probably without saying, but I meant to say “Social housing should NOT have a boundary and label of any sort.”

25 - 07 - 09

Part 1

While it is laudable that the WCC is upgrading its “affordable” housing stock, a more cynical view is that the Council is embarking on the programme because the portfolio was not attractive to the private sector and also, the state is contributing $220 million over ten years. One has to wonder if the subsequent 10 year plan will eventuate without a similar taxpayer cash injection.

Part 2

The comment of Maximus gives reason for thought when he says,
“Although I think there must be some ghettos somewhere in the City sorry – somewhere in the suburbs. Although I’m not entirely sure where that is in Wellington. Porirua City has got – well, most of Porirua, and the Hutt certainly has the Hutt. Welly has, umm, not sure.”
As a possible explanation, the state housing programme, post 1935 and motivated by the depression, along with rail and connecting bus networks, probably resolved the otherwise inevitable ghetto problem in Wellington. Initially, ‘affordable’ housing was built by the state in such places as Miramar, Strathmore and Khandallah/Cashmere but subsequently sold to individual purchasers (unlike the Railway’s housing stock). These fairly ambitious developments were superceded by the big schemes of the Hutt Valley and Porirua which unfortunately lacked the buffers of broad socio-economic occupancy and moderate scale. State housing in these areas probably helped open the door to the upgrading (or that ghastly term – gentrification) of suburbs such as Thorndon, Brooklyn and more recently Newtown which had primarily been centres of lower cost ‘working class’ accommodation. Simply, it is probable that the ghettos were run out of town.

27 - 07 - 09

Peter at the risk of being controversial, I think you are indeed overly cynical re your reading of the Council/Crown upgrade programme. As far as I can recall, in the past decade or so there have been suggestions that the Council should flick off some of its housing stock to the private sector – but the Council (ie the politicians) have never agreed to do so. In other words we have never got to a position where anyone has seriously tested market interest in our properties.
Surely the fact the Government has committed $220 million, and the Council another approx $100 million, is an indication that we are in the affordable social housing game for the long term?
There are three principal reasons for the upgrade programme: we want to bring living standards on many of our sites up to 21st-century levels – we want to make our apartments warmer, drier, more quiet and more secure; we want to reconfigure many flats to make them bigger and more suitable for familes; and we also have to quake-strengthen our high-rise sites.
Re your claim that ‘the ghettos were run out of town’, I’m no historian but as far as I can recall, the big state housing developments in the Hutt and Porirua were designed with the best of intentions – ie to give families big houses to live in on big sections. They also acknowledged the post-war baby boom and the need to clear the real ghettos in places like Te Aro – where living conditions were often appalling. The Council’s housing stock was build for much the same reason but, in the 1960s, was mainly designed to house workers with no children.
Richard MacLean – WCC Communications

27 - 07 - 09

Thanks for the info Richard. Fair call – the previous comment was a bit too cynical. I’m actually fairly pleased how well the refurb of the WCC housing has been handled so far, the WCC housing team seem to be well sorted and doing a good job so far. Where it will be important is to ensure that there is adequate money in the system for continued maintenance and improvements, and for that we need to make sure of allowances in the Long Term Plan.

28 - 07 - 09

One reason for including affordable housing in an otherwise expensive housing area like a waterfront is that people actually live in it. If you walk around Auckland’s Viaduct Basin area on a weekday afternoon, it’s an upmarket ghost town: hardly any pedestrians, no children, no old people. I suspect this is because the only people who can afford the apartments are childless or post-children professionals, or otherwise wealthy people, who probably don’t use them all the time and when they do, don’t come home till dark. Lower income people by contrast tend to have only one home and spend more time in it. By being around, they help make an area a neighbourhood rather than a dormitory. Then you get eyes on the street, a more stable market for local small businesses, etc.

Seamonkey Madness
30 - 07 - 09

Insightful comment Kaihuia.

Myself, I always thought that it was CENTRAL government that was supposed to have a handle on public housing, NOT local government.

I guess we’re paying for it one way or the other (rates and/or taxes). At least it looks like there are going to be some reasonable-looking, sensible yet stylish, economical outcomes.

7 - 08 - 09

All this discussion of how to house the poor and needy. It sounds awefully hard to hear the calls from such lofty heights. I live opposite Regent Park and my children got to school and play sport with the the kids from Te Aro Hou flats and the flats in Mt Cook, so I see what they’re like to live in. And yes, the really big ones in Mt Cook and Central Park are suffer from lack of attention (hence the current attention). But hang around with those communities and watch all the kids out and about interacting with each other. Who plays in Carrerra Park? Who is up at the indoor soccer in John St on Friday evenings hanging out blagging games where they can? Those under privaledged migrant kids. It behaves for more like the neighbourhood we all hark back to than the terrified affluent suburbs with kidproof locks on the gates.
The upgrade of this housing stock can’t help but generate increased ‘value’ from the people that live there. At the moment the families that are being moved out can’t wait to get back to ‘their new house’. ‘Their’ house. It’s such a great thing to offer someone with next to nothing.

8 - 08 - 09

Your positive observations are a great way to start the day Phil. The potential problems are the effect of the inevitable increase in rentals that will result from the capital re-evaluations and the reduction in the number of units with the proposed enlargements. One saving grace is that the Council is virtually prevented from selling off the upgraded properties due to the conditions of the Government’s financing.