Thousands of community houses ready to go, but need government funding

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Eva Corlett, housing reporter

The community housing sector is ready and waiting to construct nearly 3000 homes but desperately needs public cash to get building.

Salvation Army officially opened its $28 million housing block Te Hononga Tangata.

The Salvation Army’s community housing project in Royal Oak, Auckland, which was officially opened last year. Photo: Jessie Chiang

Housing providers have submitted their projects to the government in a bid to get investment through the “shovel-ready” infrastructure project.

Community housing groups provide around 14,000 homes across the country, and if they can get government money, they will be able to build another 3000 more, fast.

Bev James chairs the Marlborough Sustainable Housing Trust. It focuses on affordable rentals for older people.

The trust has prepared three new sections of land in order to build shared-rentals.

“Basically we have got three houses with four to five private en suite studios within each house, with communal facilities.”

The design, consent and preparation of the land is done – now they need the money to build.

“Different governments have had quite substantial roles in providing capital funding for community housing providers and I would really like to see some work done in that area because it would be a very viable way to get new stock on the ground quickly,” James said.

If funding came through, the units could be built within six to nine months, she said.

The Christchurch Methodist Mission provides social housing in Christchurch and Blenheim. It too has submitted projects for funding.

Its executive director, Jill Hawkey, said the biggest barrier to getting community housing projects off the ground was finance.

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In the past, governments had offered a mixture of up front capital and income related rent subsidies to get projects off the ground, Hawkey said.

“That makes a significant difference because often we don’t have the equity to actually put up to begin with.”

Hawkey warned the government of putting all of its effort into emergency accommodation, saying that the real challenge was to find long-term affordable homes for people.

“Across the country we have seen a number of organisations who are trying really hard to make things stack up, because they know there is a desperate shortage of housing, but they just haven’t been able to do it financially,” Hawkey said.

These are just two of the 83 projects Community Housing Aotearoa has gathered up to submit for fast-tracked consent and funding.

It’s chief executive, Scott Figenshow, asked the sector what projects it had that needed investment and could contribute to affordable housing.

Community Housing Aotearoa Scott Figenshow

Scott Figenshow. Photo: RNZ / Edward O’Driscoll

“We’ve had 15 community housing providers come back across 15 regions in the country, together with one lender as well as four private developers and we have pulled together 83 projects, totalling 2986 homes with a total development cost of just over $1 billion.”

Nearly 2000 units could be built straight away because providers already owned the land for 48 projects, he said.

About half of those projects already had building or resource consent but they needed money to start works.

And there were very likely many more projects out there close to being ready, he said.

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As part of its response to Covid-19, the government was looking for ‘shovel-ready’ infrastructure projects.

Figenshow said it made sense for community housing to get some of that cash.

“We’ve got a crisis that’s been building for 30 years, let’s use the nimble approach that government has so well demonstrated and apply that also to making sure that as we rebuild our economy, we emerge also having solved our housing crisis.”

The projects will also create jobs and support local business, Figenshow said.

Monte Cecilia Housing Trust is a community housing provider for families in Auckland.

It’s chief executive, Bernie Smith, said investment in community housing was well-overdue.

“I’m not hopeful that this government is going to step up,” he said.

“We had the promise in August / September last year of $400 million to community housing providers for shared equity home development for first home buyers. Where is that? That’s still been bogged down in bureaucracy.”

Community housing providers could have built hundreds of homes over the last three years, had there been proper investment, he said.

“Community housing providers put a lot of resource they haven’t got into developing plans, buying land and then they are left there sitting, waiting.”

Smith said he wanted more than just words from the government and that it needed to give providers proper funding to help make a dent in the housing crisis.

The government has indicated that housing projects will be prioritised alongside transport and environment projects.

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