Keen to get roofs over heads in the South

Kerrie Young, Kainga Ora’s regional director for South Canterbury, Otago and Southland, at work...
Kerrie Young, Kainga Ora’s regional director for South Canterbury, Otago and Southland, at work at the agency’s development in Church St, Mosgiel. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
When making profits for people no longer interested Kerrie Young, she took a leap of faith into the public sector. Now she is in charge of the lower South Island’s public housing stock. She talks to business reporter Riley Kennedy about the change and her outlook for the region’s housing.

Kerrie Young was sick of making profits for people. So she stopped.

Australian-born and raised, Ms Young was a property market economist by trade, specialising in property development in high-population growth areas on the Gold Coast.

Five and a-half years later, she has recently become Kainga Ora’s regional director for South Canterbury, Otago and Southland.

Under Ms Young’s watch, the Crown agency owns and manages nearly 2500 houses across the region, from the Rangitata River south, of which 1400 are in Dunedin and Mosgiel, 32 in Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes, 40 in Gore and the remainder in Invercargill.

And it is Ms Young’s job to increase those numbers.

Before moving to New Zealand, she was based on the Gold Coast operating her own property consultancy business and was president of the Urban Development Institute of Australia for her area in Queensland.

‘‘Supply and demand has been my bread and butter for a long time,’’ she said.

Between those two roles, she was doing a lot of work for not-for-profits and Crown agencies, including on local council economic development plans.

Ms Young got to a point in her life after her two daughters had left home — ‘‘and got the mortgage sorted’’ — when she realised she enjoyed that type of work much more.

‘‘I thought I have a choice now and I want to get up every day enjoying what I’m doing,’’ she said.

In 2016, she wound up her business and moved to Melbourne to work for Common Equity Housing Ltd — a cooperative housing not-for-profit aimed at providing affordable housing.

But not long after that, Housing New Zealand was recruiting for development managers for the construction of new state houses.

The government department was having trouble finding staff in New Zealand so was recruiting overseas.

Ms Young was approached to apply for the job and was flown to Auckland for an interview.

At the time, Housing New Zealand had been given $2 billion from the Government to build more state houses — ‘‘that was when I realised that this was what I wanted to do’’.

‘‘Here I am five and a-half years later and am absolutely loving it,’’ she said.

In her first role at Housing NZ she was doing construction development, at one point having 33 projects under her watch.

Two years later, and feeling she still had more to offer, she was approached for a role at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, managing large-scale land projects.

That role was then moved into Kiwibuild, which at the time was a initiative under the new Labour Government aiming to build 100,000 houses.

‘‘It was a great ambition, but very hard to achieve.’’

One of the big problems the initiative faced was sourcing land to build on and it was Ms Young’s job to find it.

She worked with councils, particularly in high-growth areas, such as Hamilton, Tauranga and Auckland, finding ways to unlock those constraints.

But when Kainga Ora was created in 2019 — which combined Housing NZ, Kiwibuild and Homes, Land, Community (HLC) — her role was absorbed into the new entity.

Ms Young spent two years working as the entity’s director of strategic urban partnerships based in Auckland.

The opportunity to move to Dunedin to be the regional director had previously come up early last year. She considered applying, but thought she still had too much to achieve in Auckland.

But during last year’s lockdown in Auckland, the role came up again. One of Ms Young’s daughters lives in Luggate with her husband and two children. Being separated from them was the most difficult part of the past two years of the pandemic, she said.

‘‘It was like fate came and knocked on my door.’’ So she applied for it and left Auckland in October last year — ‘‘I couldn’t wait to leave’’.

Before moving to Dunedin, she had spent some time in the lower South Island.

Her daughter studied fashion at Otago Polytechnic and before that she would bring her family over from the Gold Coast to spend winter holidays on the slopes in Queenstown.

‘‘I remember thinking it would be so cool to live in this area . . . now I am.’’

Switching from the private sector to the public sector was a ‘‘complete shock and a completely different ball game’’, she said.

In the public sector, particularly around decision-making, there were so many more factors to consider.

‘‘We have to consult with people internally at Kainga Ora, and also externally with the wider community.’’

Whereas a private developer probably only needed to keep the bank and investors happy.

‘‘Making people profit every day just wasn’t getting me out of bed in the morning.’’

Ms Young wanted to use her ‘‘drive and energy’’ to make sure people in her community were taken care of.

After taking time off over the summer to think about her new role, Ms Young had come up with her vision for the entity in the lower South Island.

The first was increasing the public housing stock throughout the region because the waiting list for people wanting to get into homes was always growing and there was not enough stock to keep up with it.

‘‘We know there are people who aren’t even on the waiting list who need a home as well,’’ she said.

Ms Young wanted to work with local councils to see how Kainga Ora could help effect change in housing affordability.

‘‘I want to see how we can work to make sure there is affordable homes in the community because we know there isn’t now,’’ she said.

Now she had got settled into her new role, Dunedin and wider Otago were home and she had no plans to move any time soon.

‘‘I love it here, I really do, and I don’t want to leave or have any plans to.’’

Asked on Australia Day whether she missed her home country, Ms Young admitted she had forgotten about it.

‘‘Does that answer your question?’’ 

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