Cap on new units; old to be upgraded

Dunedin's 996 council flats are about to have a five-year, $5 million upgrade, as the city re-routes some of its social housing budget away from building new units to upgrading what it has.

The plan was a major plank in the Dunedin City Council's social housing strategy, and a win for the housing, over those who wanted either to sell stock, or use the money elsewhere, Cr Fliss Butcher said yesterday.

It also ends debate on whether the council should be involved in social housing, re-affirming its lead role in the area.

"This is a big deal for me," Cr Butcher, chairwoman of a working party that dealt with the matter, said yesterday.

"There was a move - some people thought we should sell them to pay for something else," she said, referring to the Forsyth Barr Stadium.

"We asked the community what they wanted. They said `no'."

Last year, a proposal emerged in a council report to cut $1 million a year from the housing budget for 10 years.

In 2008, Dunedin Mayor Peter Chin and Otago Regional Council chairman Stephen Cairns wrote a letter to Deputy Prime Minister Bill English offering a share of equity in the council's social housing portfolio in return for government funds towards the stadium project.

But those proposals ended as a possibility when the strategy was adopted at a community development committee meeting on Tuesday.

The strategy should be finally signed off at a full council meeting on February 22.

It means the council will cap its housing stock at 1000 units for the next five years, and will resume building new units after that.

The strategy was applauded by Methodist Mission general manager Laura Black, who said the council's choice to take a lead role in co-ordination between agencies was an important move.

Presbyterian Support Otago chief executive Gillian Bremner said she had not yet read the strategy, but the decisions sounded "logical", she said.

The strategy said demographic trends for Dunedin had to be considered, including a "significant increase" expected in the over-65 age group.

Projections showed by 2051 more than a quarter of the population would be aged over 65.

Statistics New Zealand figures predict Dunedin will have 7700 more households between 2006 and 2031, and "of real note is the projected increase of 5600 single-person households", along with 4400 additional couple-only households.

The older nature of Dunedin's houses meant they were less likely to be insulated, and poor quality housing was linked to poor health.

The strategy confirmed the council's role as a lead provider of social housing; that the current "break-even" policy, with the homes paying for themselves, would be kept; and there would be a partnership approach with other providers and agencies like Housing New Zealand and Presbyterian Support.

The $1 million a year would be spent on upgrades, with $700,000 on re-roofing and insulation, $200,000 on exterior upgrades, and $100,000 on internal upgrades such as showers and ventilation, it said.

"During this time, a housing needs assessment will be undertaken, which will help to determine an appropriate level of social housing provision into the future."

A hearings committee of Cr Fliss Butcher, Cr Dave Cull and Mayor Peter Chin heard submissions on the issue last year, and developed the strategy along with council staff.

While there was a cap on building new homes, there was always room for new buildings for social housing stock if the opportunity arose, Cr Butcher said.


Social housing history

• Dunedin City Corporation first became involved in 1946, responding to an "acute housing shortage".

• Transit housing for returned servicemen and families was provided.

• By 1965, the corporation had 90 double and 114 single units, at a cost of 359,000.

• Today, the council provides 8% of all rented dwellings, 996 units worth $67.6 million.





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