Northland’s housing crisis is described as a “matter of desperation” as small towns see people living on the streets for the first time.
Rising house prices, Auckland’s growing population and the impacts of Covid-19 are to blame for the problem, as the region’s public housing waiting list soars.
Since the end of 2017, the number of Tai Tokerau families registered in the Kāinga Ora housing register has increased by 600%, from 234 in December 2017 to 1,402 in December 2021.
The trend has continued since then, with the list growing by 70 (5%) in just three months to March 2022.
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About a quarter of those on the waiting list are seniors.
Jeff Murray, regional manager of Kāinga Ora, Te Tai Tokerau, believed the increase was due to population growth and rising property prices.
“The underlying problem is that people are settling in Northland – with Auckland becoming increasingly unaffordable, they are returning to their whānau and the lands with which they are associated.”
The Kaipara district, which has seen a 1,200% increase in the housing register since 2017, has been particularly hard hit, Murray said.
“As people are being evicted from Whangārei, they are going to Dargaville and buying houses that might otherwise be rented, which is reducing the number of rentals in Dargaville.”
Kāinga Ora, formerly Housing New Zealand, always knew demand was higher than what was on its register, so the increase could also be more people showing up for social housing, he said.
Haami Piripi, chairman of Te Rarawa, which works with Kāinga Ora to provide housing in Kaitāia, said another problem was the lack of infrastructure for new homes.
A 30-house Te Rarawa development cannot start due to a lack of sewage treatment capacity, he said.
The iwi has houses and kaumātua [elderly] apartments, but wants to do more to help its residents, Piripi said.
“It’s a matter of desperation.
“For the first time in my life, we have people literally living on the streets in Kaitāia, and there is something wrong with that image.”
Homelessness in Whangārei has been exacerbated by Covid-19, according to Whangārei District Councilor Ken Couper.
“Covid hasn’t hit equally – some have done well and some have really suffered.”
The housing crisis reflects greater inequalities in society that affect everyone, Couper said.
“Everything is getting so out of whack. If you’re trying to buy a house on one income these days it’s extremely difficult – there are plenty of reasons why people find themselves either unable to buy a house, unable to rent a house or lose a house.
Recognizing Whangārei’s significant housing problem, the council developed a long-term housing strategy, steered by a committee of three hapū and three council representatives, including Couper.
All organizations – including the council, government agencies, iwi, developers, community housing providers and other organizations – needed to understand their role in helping to solve the housing crisis, he said.
For his part, Kāinga Ora is constructing 140 new state houses in Tai Tokerau over the next 15 months, with work concentrated in Whangārei, Kaitāia and Kaikohe.
Under the public housing plan, the agency will build 310 new homes on its own land by June 2024, bringing the total number of state homes in Northland to 2,557, Murray said.
But the 310 new homes would only meet a fifth of the current demand on the housing register.
Murray said Kāinga Ora was also working with private developers, funding them to build additional state houses on their own land in Tai Tokerau, and was seeking more of those partnerships.
But he said the agency had to stay within the government’s budget for the national public housing plan and would not build 1,400 new homes in Northland to meet demand.
Couper said while social housing was a big part of the response to the housing crisis, it was not the only part of the picture.
“In Whangārei, we all recognize that it’s not just social housing or emergency housing – it’s affordable housing for first-time home buyers and affordable housing in the right place for jobs. available… This is rural development for people with land and papa kāinga [on communal Māori land].”
Build the key to meet the rise
The scaling up of homes on Kāinga Ora land in Whangārei was key to meeting Northland’s growing demand for social housing, Murray said.
Where new council planning rules allow, the agency will build three-storey apartment blocks, alongside its more traditional one- and two-storey houses.
The buildings are planned for the suburbs of The Avenues, Kamo, Tikipunga and Kensington, where Kāinga Ora acknowledges that he will likely be the first developer to build that height.
Another proposal by Kāinga Ora to build a five-storey apartment building in central Whangārei was mostly supported by residents.
The development, planned for a council-owned site in Dent St which has been abandoned by a hotel chain, is still being discussed with the council, Murray said.
Also in Whangārei, the first houses in the controversial 37-house Puriri Park complex in Maunu will open to tenants in winter.
The development will also include a community hall with kitchen and bathroom – a first for a Kāinga Ora resort in Northland.
Further north, a 13-unit development in Kaitāia will be ready from the end of this year.
Ranging from two-bedroom duplexes to four-bedroom stand-alone homes, the development will also include a new wetland to control stormwater.