Opening of the Central Park Housing ComplexEnergy and Resources
Believe it or not, there are some bonuses to flying into Wellington’s wind, as I do frequently. It means that I get a bird’s-eye view of the degree of change Wellington City Council’s social housing has made to the cityscape in certain areas.
There are now large areas of Newtown – with Te Ara Hou, Regent Park and Hanson Court apartments, and here in at Central Park, that have been transformed, and the positive changes show, even from the air.
All the renewed apartments and the attractive landscaping have given these apartments a lively, modern face. I know the outside improvements are reflected by the changes inside – as well as fresh new paint and carpet there’s insulation, double-glazing, better ventilation and heating.
A staggering number of awards back up what I’m saying. The work on this complex has won six awards this year.
For example, the Australasian Housing Institute award for an Inspiring Colleague went to city housing manager Vicki McLaren – congratulations Vicki. That Institute also gave the tenants the Tenant Led Initiative award.
It’s terrific to see that tenants are so involved with these projects and helping make Central Park and the other complexes vibrant neighbourhoods.
I’m particularly pleased by the council’s attitude that its social housing is more than housing, it’s about a community of people. Here in the renewed Central Park complex, better recreation facilities have been provided, there’s a place where tenants can socialise or work on things, and also a lively community programme they can take part in.
The entire redevelopment project in Wellington is the largest ever undertaken in New Zealand. In all, it will see 40 housing complexes, 2300 homes and 13 large complexes finished in the first 10 years.
It’s a significant investment for the Government, and our partnership with the council has resulted in a unique funding arrangement. Of the total cost of $400 million, we are contributing $220 million.
The council is making a substantial commitment – as well as funding its $180 million share of the cost, it has committed to social housing at around the same financial level for 30 years through to June 2037.
The council will also ring-fence rental income from the tenancies to ensure that its social housing is sustainable over that period and beyond.
That’s the kind of far-sighted vision that offers real leadership for social housing at a national level.
It’s the kind of vision we are looking for as we address the deeper problem of finding good, sustainable social housing for all New Zealanders who need it, in the decades to come.
We have a major challenge. We need sound social housing right around the country. But the current stock is aged social housing that isn’t always in good shape. The cost of keeping it running is rising, and the housing is often the wrong size for the families it is servicing, and not always in the places where it is now most needed.
The whole purpose of social housing to provide quality housing for people in the community who have difficulty finding housing for themselves. Sound social housing contributes to good health, better opportunities to take part in the community – and that ultimately takes the load off the welfare system.
The social housing challenge has grown over the past 10 years. The Crown’s current level of investment now includes a $15 billion state house portfolio and over $1.8 billion spent annually assisting people into housing.
We think that money can be spent more effectively to house more people in better conditions. We owe it to the people who are finding the going tough, and to the State’s 200,000 tenants to find better options.
New direction for social housing
We’re currently setting a new direction for social housing: we’re looking for long-term improvements that will sustain communities. This is a work in progress, but I can give you some idea of our thinking.
Our goal is to achieve well-managed and maintained social housing that’s right for local conditions. The old one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. We need housing that meets the needs of local people – so there will be variations across New Zealand.
We want tenants to have protection and choices about the kind of housing they live in, as well as involvement in managing their homes. We also want them to be able to hold their landlord to account – even if that landlord is the State.
We’re looking at reform that will have a greater emphasis on partnership, with the Government working together with the housing sector, possibly even ending up buying services. That could happen if the amount of housing delivered by non-government providers gradually increases.
This kind of reform will ensure that New Zealand has a long-term supply of sound social housing. It will mean that people are housed in accommodation that is appropriate for the type and level of their need, for as long as their need exists. It will mean social housing is available in the districts and regions where they need it.
The reforms will be complex and must be gradual, and staged over time – probably around 15 years - to give the social housing market time to adapt and develop.
This approach is quite a change from the current system. But, with available social housing stock aging fast and the kind of pressure we have on social housing in Christchurch and Auckland, there is no choice but to take action.
I want to emphasise this: the Government takes its responsibility to those eligible for social housing very seriously. They, and the communities they are part of, will be our first concern as we make these changes.
We owe it to future New Zealanders to take a bold, long-term approach to social housing. It won’t be easy, but the changes will be better for everyone in the long run.