Archives for posts with tag: housing

Yesterday, the Herald remembered about Christchurch, and upon waking from its slumber, fired off about a dozen stories about the rebuild. Many of them were from bank economists, and all of them were unrelentingly bullish about the state of the rebuild. In the midst of the cheerleading was an extraordinary piece by Fran O’Sullivan, profiling Don Miskell, the chief architect of the blueprint. It is remarkably revealing of Miskell, and in turn, the government’s, intentions towards the rebuild. He talks about the eastern frame, and how the plan has changed to allow for more residential development.

Already the Blueprint is being tweaked to create some upmarket residential housing within the East Frame, which was originally targeted to allow the central business district to expand as the city grows.

“Inner-city residential is one of the big changes we are looking to make happen,” says Miskell. “Empty nesters like myself would be able to take advantage of the opportunity to walk to work, enjoy hospitality and cultural events.”

Great. So the frame – which was initially designed to mop up excess land so that developers who had large inner city property portfolios didn’t lose too much money – is now revealed to be an upmarket retirement village for well-paid government puppets, sucking on the taxpayer teat. Let’s not forget that this is the man CERA put in charge of designing the blueprint, and he seems to want to create a city for wealthy retirees. I’ll admit that I don’t have his design expertise, but it would be good if someone could point me to the chapter in the manual where it says that the key to making an inner city vibrant and liveable is to bring in old, white, scared people.

How do I know that they are scared? Well, Miskell tells us himself:

A lot of it seems like common sense, but it is about avoiding dead ends, such as Latimer Square which is 80m wide and not well lit. There used to be a bit of antisocial behaviour occurring in the middle – drug dealing and so on. With the East Frame you can read the looks on people’s faces as to whether they are supposed to be there or not. It will be easy to get on the phone and report as there will be no nooks and crannies.

Miskell can tell just by looking at someone whether they belong in his future city or not. Let that sink in for a bit. The head designer of New Zealand’s largest ever infrastructure project is going to judge people just by looking at them. If he doesn’t like the look of you, peering out from the balcony of his $1.5 million dollar apartment, he’ll call the authorities and dob you in. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing anything. He can tell. Just by looking at you.

It’s worth reminding people at this point how much the “Frame” is going to cost. The government is using $481 million dollars – taxpayer dollars – to buy up the land that makes the frame. Miskell says that they want 1500 people living in this area. Assuming that these “empty nesters” like himself live two to a dwelling, that is 750 new apartments. That would mean that the land alone for each of these apartments would be costing the taxpayer $641,300. The best part of 2/3rd of a million dollars to put paranoid boomers into the central city, where they can strangle all the life out of the central city via an anonymous 0800 tip-line. Is this what anyone signed up for?

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So you may have noticed that I’ve been a little bit quiet on the blogging front for the last couple of weeks. I’ve got a decent excuse for that – I’ve been working to organize and stage manage the Labour Party annual conference, which was held at Wigram Air Force Museum over the weekend. Now that I’ve managed to catch up on a bit of a sleep, I’ve had a bit of time to read some of the things that were written and reported on across the weekend. The two best pieces I’ve read are Gordon Campbell’s and The Civilian’s (I tried to broker a compromise deal between Ben and DC’s media minders; sadly it didn’t come off.)

The major policy announcements from the conference – KiwiAssure, 10,000 houses in 4 years, temporary housing in red zone houses, New Brighton redevelopment – are really exciting moves, that have been the product of a number of people, both in Wellington and Christchurch, working through some of the most pressing issues that face Christchurch and the East in particular. I’ve been part of that process, and I’m really proud of the outcome. The policy to build 10,000 Kiwibuild houses within 4 years shows that a Labour government would take a far more proactive stance on rehousing the people of Canterbury – but also a more hands-on role in reshaping the way a city works. Over three years after the first quake, the hands-off, laissez faire approach has led to sky-rocketing rents, people living in garages and a rebuild that has pottered along unconvincingly. I hope that this more assertive position leads to the end of the coward’s truce that “don’t politicise the rebuild” gave rise to; these are major issues about the way we live, the way we interact with each other and our environment, and they deserve to be discussed with passion and clarity by all sides in the argument.

In case you didn’t get the memo, housing in Christchurch is a major issue – especially for those at the lower end of the market. You don’t have to take my word for it:

The housing situation in Christchurch was “absolutely bloody dire”, said Tenants Protection Association Christchurch manager Helen Gatonyi.

That’s just one point of view though, right? Surely the Government is doing everything it can?

Just 8 per cent of the Crown agency’s broken city housing stock has been repaired, with more than 4500 still requiring work.

Despite that figure, which look like an absolute failure, Housing New Zealand assures that they are “on target“. 

BY THE NUMBERS

5000: Quake damaged properties to be completed by December 2015

2000: Number to be completed by mid-February 2014

1336: Number expected to be completed by mid-October

254: Number completed as of October 18

150: Number under way

So by Mid-October – which I think we can assume is “about now”, they were expecting to have done 1336 repairs. They have done 254. Even if you include the 150 that are in progress, that’s less than a third of what they were projecting to have done by now. How can they say that they are “on target”, when they have failed, dismally, to meet their own targets? How is anyone meant to have any faith that they will hit their next target of 2000 houses by mid-February 2014? Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Twyford said: “I would say it’s a heroic assumption that they are on track.” There’s not a huge amount of heroism on display around here at the moment. 

Grant Robertson announced a policy to introduce a rent freeze in Christchurch when he was down early in the week. So who do the Press go to to get an opinion? Those even handed, unbiased bank economists, of course.

Christchurch economist Robin Clements of UBS bank said Robertson’s plan was “not a wise idea”, saying it did not work when tried last time. “How is reducing investors’ returns and driving them out going to help the market?

Investors returns? Ah, of course. Silly me. I forgot that these needed to be prioritised over and above the health and welfare of our most vulnerable citizens. Robertson wasn’t actually proposing to cut people’s rents, just to freeze them at the levels they’re at. Investors will still be able to take out the returns that they’ve been able to gouge from the market, with increases of at least 10% a year in rent in the three years since the quakes.

No, this proposal won’t help the market. It’s designed to do the opposite of helping the market. Because in Christchurch, the hands-of, free-market has failed the people who are most in need. This isn’t the perfect solution – but it’s a complex situation, and there probably isn’t a perfect solution. But don’t be surprised that it’s not going to help the market, because it’s far more important than that. It’s designed to help the people

Time magazine have published an excerpt from an upcoming book about the fall of suburbia in America:

In 2011, for the first time in nearly a hundred years, the rate of urban population growth outpaced suburban growth, reversing a trend that held steady for every decade since the invention of the automobile. In several metropolitan areas, building activity that was once concentrated in the suburban fringe has now shifted to what planners call the “urban core,” while demand for large single-family homes that characterize our modern suburbs is dwindling.

Now I know that this isn’t the first time such ideas have been discussed – but the discussion seems to have eluded Christchurch. The immediate demand for rehousing people displaced from the east seems to only be possible by spreading west and north across the plains, into the endless suburbia that America is starting to pull-back from.

On Monday, I went and saw a lecture from Dr Susan Krumdieck, on her plan for a new, dense Riccarton. Some of her talks are up on her Youtube channel – though the one from Monday isn’t yet. She argues for an intensification of housing, and has selected Riccarton as an example. While I think it’s a great idea, I’m not sure how it’s going to happen. I’d suggest situating the project in the CBD – say, where the stadium is meant to go – rather than bulldozing a suburb to rebuild a new one.