Archives for posts with tag: housing

While I was off-duty last weekend, my friend and some-time contributor to this site Barnaby Bennett wrote a blog about Gerry Brownlee, listing ten good reasons why he should go. After sharing it on Facebook, it led to two City Councillors getting themselves in a spot of bother by passing it around too. One of Barnaby’s main points was this: why are we putting control of the organisation that is tasked with cleaning up the mess in central Christchurch in the hands of the man who was in charge of the organisations that created the mess? That is effectively the situation with Regenerate Christchurch – the CCDU by another name. Barnaby’s blog post documents the miss-steps made by the minister, and argues that any new organisation should not be put in his control.

There could be no clearer demonstration of Brownlee’s unsuitability for the role than this story from yesterday:

Since 2012, Brownlee has hosted drinks in Christchurch the week before the All Blacks play a test in the city, inviting members of the media, business and sports communities. The event was sponsored by Fletcher Construction; the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) managed the invitations.

Just last week, Brownlee announced that Fletcher Residential has won the tender to lead the $800m East Frame project. And yet, Brownlee seems to think that to suggest there was a link between Fletcher hosting a free piss up for him and a group of media and business people, hand-picked by him is some sort of conspiracy theory. We’re not talking about chemtrails or lizard people here. We’ve got the company who has got a bunch of the biggest government contracts regularly throwing a party for the minister who gives out those contracts. Imagine, if you can, the CTU throwing a party for a Labour Minister, who then goes and introduces something akin to a responsible health and safety legislation. The right would blow a gasket.

CERA has given out billions of dollars in contracts, and that’s what they’re meant to do. But due to the Byzantine structure of CERA, and the paucity of investigative journalists* in this city, it is very difficult for anyone to find out anything about how those jobs have been allocated. For Brownlee to throw a tanty about this shows just how unsuited he is for a role that will increasingly require complex negotiations between a series of organisations that don’t necessarily share the same interests. This man is not fit for that role. Or, as MvB put it:

It is simply not a good look to have the party garnering the major slice of rebuild business funding entertainment for the minister that has the most influence over the very decisions that deliver the business in the first place.

Brownlee should hardly be surprised at the turn of events and should not act hurt and indignant just because he has been called out.

If Brownlee insists that he has done nothing wrong, then why did he cancel the party? I guess we’ll never know, as he has gone into his usual sulk and is refusing to answer questions from the media:

A spokesman for Mr Brownlee said he would not be commenting and was not under any “statutory obligation” to answer Radio New Zealand’s questions.

It’s simply unacceptable for a Minister to continue to behave like this.

* I know there are good journalists in this city trying their hardest to get to the bottom of what is happening at CERA. But there just aren’t enough of them. And I’ve talked to some of them in the past who were genuinely psyched to go to this party in previous years. Gerry is the most powerful man in the city, by some distance. It’s like getting an audience with Caligula. So even if they were joking, I was saddened to see tweets like this:

The Once In A Lifetime crew are getting together tomorrow night for a discussion about housing in Christchurch. Full info is as follows:

Talking Heads #2: Anna Langley, Dr Alistair Humphrey and Garry Moore in conversation with Barnaby Bennett

6pm – 7pm, June 24th, at Switch Espresso, New Brighton Mall (opposite Fish n Chicken)
The team behind the book Once in a Lifetime: City-building after Disaster in Christchurch is pleased to present the second edition of Talking Heads, a series of talks that explore the current state of play in Christchurch and expand upon some of the themes and issues discussed in Once in a Lifetime.

Join us out east for a discussion about housing: is there a housing crisis?

With our panel participants we hope to open up the conversation to look at some of the many issues that feed into housing: affordability, health and wellbeing, quality of housing and so on.

Barnaby Bennett, one of the book’s editors and architecture PhD student, hosts this event and will field questions from the floor.

Anna Langley is on the board of Tenants Protection Association and is a facilitator of a community hub which delas with social issues . Dr Alistair Humphrey is the Canterbury Medical Officer of Health and Garry Moore is a former mayor and runs the not-for profit Your Home, which buys houses in the east and moves them to sections elsewhere in Canterbury in an attempt to provide affordable housing to lower income families.

Copies of Once in a Lifetime: City-building after Disaster in Christchurch will be available for $40.

One the one hand, I think this is a good initiative. The council land from the old Henderson deal being using for housing. They look good and Welles St would be a great place to live at the moment.

On the other hand, the old “affordable” chestnut comes up again. $450,000 is affordable? Affordable for whom? There are still actual houses with actual backyards for sale in Christchurch under $400,000. Some aren’t much more than $300,000. So I can’t see how an apartment, with no land attached, on the outskirts of a CBD with little to no amenity value, can justify a $450k price tag. Or more than that, as 80% of the units will be. It might be affordable relative to Auckland, but this isn’t Auckland.

I’m genuinely interested in what the comparative cost of something similar in Wellington or Dunedin might be, and whether the economics of this stack up.

One of the things that struck me about the CERA response to the criticism of their Live Central campaign was how straight up wrong they were. Warwick Isaacs wrote a letter to the Press, which echoed the sentiments of Cr Jamie Gough, who said that there were no brown people in the campaign because no brown people lived in the central city (I’m paraphrasing, but only slightly). The thing is, that isn’t true. There are lots of brown people who live in the central city – they just don’t live in houses.*

Every Friday dozens of people head down to Latimer Square to get a hot meal from volunteers. These are many of the vulnerably housed people who call the streets of the CBD home. Many of them will stay in some of the shelters and church-led accommodation to the east of Madras St. Pre-quake, there were lots of properties that catered for these people. I remember that the front porch of the Grumpy Mole was often a prime spot for rough sleepers. Post-quake, it’s not so easy.

Following the cold snap of the last few days, the City Mission has put a call out for blankets because their night shelters are full to capacity. If you can help them out with a spare blanket or some cash, please do. And if you’re in a position of power, please stop pretending these people don’t exist in our city. They do. Any discussion about the residential future of the central city which fails to acknowledge the existence of people in poverty or people without a regular abode will only serve to reinforce these problems.

* I’m not for a minute saying that only brown people are vulnerably housed. There are all sorts of races down at the food van when I go by it on Friday evening, but I don’t stop to take pictures or count ethnicities.

Pps you can visit the Help The Homeless Chch page here

Patrick Reynolds over at Transportblog has a post looking at two ads for development property in Auckland and Christchurch. It’s short so I’ll repost the whole thing:

For those interested in the divergence of development patterns in New Zealand cities it is hard not to be struck by this page in the weekend’s real estate section. Auckland is still growing out, but it is also growing up. Christchurch not so much, just out. Time will tell which model better suits the demands of this century. This also clearly illustrates how Auckland is an exception in NZ in more ways than just its size:

I was thinking about Christchurch’s sprawl issues over the weekend. We had an opportunity to restrict the sprawl of the city across the plains, but that horse has well and truly bolted. That horse now lives in Rolleston, commutes to work in Addington, and drops the kids at school in Riccarton on the way. And unless the government actively steps in to proactively encourage residential development in the CBD, I can’t see any end to this short-term urban planning.

I was on the plane to Auckland on Saturday, and instead of reading more of my boring book I flicked back through a series of older newspaper articles that I’ve meant to read for a while. One was this piece from the head of Warren and Mahoney, Peter Marshall. He is talking about housing in the eastern frame, and is pretty boosterish about it. He says that we should be building affordable housing – great!

Christchurch has apartments now on the west side between the central city and Hagley Park but they are fairly high end.

“What was missing was an affordable townhouse which is where that is going to be pitched.”

What is affordable?

“$500,000, $600,000, there might even be some less.”

THIS GUY THINKS THAT $600,000 IS AN AFFORDABLE HOUSE. JUST THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A BIT.

Ok.

Are you still digesting that – I’ll give you another moment.

Right.

To put that in context, here are some other numbers:

Whereas the average house price before the quakes had been around $310,000, an average new home including land would now cost between $450,000 and $550,000.

Those figures – from the Salvation Army – come with this additional, understated comment:

“This difference is likely to be the continuing source of housing stress for many households for many years to come.”

If you take the mid-point of that latter bracket – $500,000 – then the average house price has gone up $190,000 in 5 years. That is pretty much 10% a year, each year since the quakes. If people’s wages had been going up 10% a year, I think we’d know about it. They haven’t. Saying that things aren’t as bad as they are in the Auckland housing market is irrelevant; here we had a major disaster, and the government has a duty of care to ensure that the people of Christchurch suffer as little as possible.

Despite repeated warnings of a housing crisis, National refuses to accept that there is anything wrong. And why would they? They are the party of property prices; they returned a stunning result in Christchurch at the last election, and I reckon that is in large part due to many, many people feeling very good about the increasing value of their property portfolio. That this dude can say that $600,000 – twice what the average house cost just five years ago – is an “affordable” home with a straight face shows how totally broken the market is.

No-one is going to provide affordable housing that is actually affordable for the people who need it. In the short term, this will serve the government and it’s allies; the head of the CCDU Warwick Isaacs is about to leave so he can join Stonewood Homes, a builder of cookie-cutter landfill subdivisions in which half the houses failed their inspections. In the long term, Christchurch will become a city that is only affordable for the homogenous, white middle-class that CERA depicts in their advertising, whilst the poor, the working class, the migrants, the students and the people who generally make cities interesting places to live give up on the White Man’s Dream and head for greener pastures.

Last week, Paulette Barr saw the Prime Minister in Riccarton mall and bravely approached him with her story. It was a bleak story, and got plenty of media attention – front page of the Press, story on Campbell Live. A week later, some good news – Barr’s claim has now been “fast-tracked”, and Christchurch Central MP Nicky Wagner has become involved.

While I am happy for Barr – no-one should be going through these situations almost 4 years after the quakes – this story actually makes me more upset. It’s shouldn’t be like this. You shouldn’t have to rely on a chance encounter with the Prime Minister to get any movement on your claim. There are thousands of cases like this in Christchurch right now – how can we get them all “fast-tracked”? On the same day that we get the happy resolution story, we also have this – a homeowner living in a 3 degree house after repeatedly being told different things by EQC.

What we need in Christchurch is an admission the EQC and insurance process for fixing houses is fundamentally broken. We need the Minister of EQC, Gerry Brownlee, to answer questions as to why it has got to this point. Instead of merely patching up cases when they reach the media, the whole culture of these organisations needs to change. Their role is to help people. They shouldn’t have to be guilted into doing so by the media.

I’ve just been down at the launch of Labour’s housing policy for Christchurch, which is one of the key parts of our Kick-starting the Recovery package. Part of it will see 10,000 Kiwibuild homes built in Christchurch over the first 4 years of a Labour-led government. Further to that, 3,000 of them would be earmarked as affordable rental housing, as a way of immediately making rents more affordable. The venue for the launch was the Oxford Terrace Baptist church, up on the corner of the Chester St and Madras.

Phil Twyford, looking in his bag for some housing policy

As our housing spokesperson Phil Twyford announced the policy, he had to speak up to be heard over the sound of Centennial Pool being destroyed. But the main reason for having the launch where we did is that we want to use this policy to bring people back into the centre city. Between a third and a half of the 10,000 homes will be medium density builds within the centre city, including some in the land designated for the frame. This is an example of how we believe that the Government should be more involved in the urban design of the city:

Labour will kickstart the redevelopment of the city centre, working with the Council, the community and developers to bring people back into the heart of the city. We will create a vibrant urban community with affordable medium-density housing. We will take the same approach to the revitalisation of New Brighton, and other suburban and town centres such as Addington, Riccarton, Spreydon, Kaiapoi, Rangiora and Rolleston. We will build mixed income communities where people can live, work and play, with high urban design standards, green space, and decent infrastructure.

The current government’s “hands-off” approach to urban design has clearly failed, but it’s not too late for us to turn this around. We can still create a city that builds back communities, then works with them to create a liveable, workable city.

 

Every Wednesday, The Press runs an opinion column from their “At Home” editor, David Killick. These are very popular, w weekly grab-bag of assorted ideas about the rebuild of the city. I don’t usually read them, but this week’s one was about inner city living. As someone who lives in the inner city, I thought I should read it. I didn’t get too far before something stuck out like a sore thumb:

The Cera-CCDU Blueprint, drawn up in just 100 days in 2011, was initially hailed as bold and visionary.

Um. The CCDU Blueprint was launched in 2012. Now, this might seem like splitting hairs, but I am a little shocked that someone who’s primary role is to comment about the rebuild doesn’t know when the single most important document informing the rebuild came out. It could just be a simple mistake. I’m also a little bewildered that none of the subs picked it up. (For those who were wondering, the Blueprint was released to the public on July 30th, 2012.)

As to the rest of the content – well, I live in the CBD already, and made a very conscious choice to do so. There are a couple of things that concern me about this piece, but I’ll limit myself to these two:

One concern remains – while cafes, restaurants, and bars do add life, Christchurch does not need a return of out-of-control drunken youths creating mayhem in the inner city. Tougher laws and policing, plus a strong dose of self- control, are called for.

David, I’m not sure if you have been into the inner city on a Friday or Saturday night lately, but “out of control drunken youths” as you call them are already back. Both the St Asaph St and Victoria St bar areas are overflowing with drunk people late at night – though many of them aren’t exactly “youths” any more. It’s not pretty, and it’s not sustainable, but hand-wringing and moralising about it is not the most effective way to resolve it.

Lively music and entertainment are to be welcomed, though, and if you don’t like them, don’t live there.

I like live music. I’ve been in bands, and DJ’d around the place for a decade now. I work in a live music venue. So I like live music AND I live here – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be working to reduce the impact of late night noise pollution. If we are going to rebuild mixed-used residential with cafes and bars, then we could do smarter things to reduce their noise impact on their surrounds. If you’re going to custom build a venue, maybe it could be subterranean? Or if the apartments are properly sound insulated, then sound might not be such a problem.

Having lived above bars and music venues for much of the last decade, I can say that it isn’t the music that drives you nuts, it is the emptying of the bottle bins that happens once the bar is closed. There are ways to mitigate this. I think this is a very reductionist argument – if we want 20,000, or even 50,000 people living within the four aves, then we’re going to need to be more welcoming than just writing off whole swathes of the population who don’t like live music or the idea of “drunken out of control youths”. It’s going to need to cater for all sorts, and be designed in a way that brings them together, rather than crudely classifying them.

Last week’s budget offered little for Christchurch. In fact, you could argue that it took from the city to enable a wafer-thin surplus for Key to crow about. Well, there was one tangible policy relating to Christchurch; paying beneficiaries to come to the city if they get a job.

nats-to-chch2It was widely lampooned when it was announced, and rightly so. A story from the Sunday Star Times yesterday further confirms the futility of this policy. Cecile Meier reports that Fletchers EQR, one of the biggest employers in the rebuild, is telling contractors to look for work elsewhere.

Two contractors, speaking anonymously, said Fletcher EQR, which is contracted to manage repairs, last week apologised to a group of its preferred contractors in Christchurch because it would not be able to give them as much work as promised. One of them, who has worked for Fletcher since the start of the repair programme, said the announcement came as a surprise.

“They told us last week that they couldn’t guarantee us work because EQC had not given them the jobs,” he said, speaking anonymously.

So the “come to Christchurch, there are heaps of jobs” bit has fallen flat, but where are these people going to live? CERA figures showing that rents in Christchurch will soon match those in Auckland confirm that there is indeed a housing crisis in the city, and that the government’s “hands-off” policy is leaving our most vulnerable people to suffer in a distorted market. Projections in a CERA report show that by January 2015, the average rent will be around $460 – on par with what you might expect in Auckland. This isn’t just an issue limited to the suburbs which sustained the most significant earthquake damage. In fact, data from MoBIE shows that the annual rent increase in the suburb of Aorangi in the Ilam electorate was a staggering 39.1%.

Despite these clear signals that the housing market in Christchurch is indeed in a crisis, the government continues to act as though everything is fine. Just this morning, Key was on Morning Report denying that there is any crisis. Meanwhile, projections from Housing New Zealand, released to Labour under the Official Information Act, show that over the next ten years, the government plans to sell off more than 500 state homes in the city.

We put a great crew of doorknockers out in the electorate at the weekend, and the single biggest issue was housing. This policy, and the PM joining Gerry Brownlee and Nick Smith in denying a housing crisis in the city shows just how out of touch they are with what is going on down here.