Housing shortages will change city

The housing "crisis" affecting many parts of New Zealand is, it seems, heading to Dunedin.

A housing capacity report presented to the Dunedin City Council's planning and environment committee on Tuesday found the city could be 1000 homes short by 2028. The council is expected to ensure it has 10 years' worth of residential capacity, yet the report found there was only enough for about five. The work to find the extra capacity is now under way.

There is no need for finger pointing or blame attribution. Dunedin has simply grown beyond expectations. That is a good thing. The question now is how the city accommodates that growth.

The city council is discussing how inner-city areas can best be modified to accommodate residential needs. That is to be applauded. Many residents living in large suburban homes may well consider those homes too big and unwieldy - perhaps the children have moved on, other circumstances have changed, or perhaps such homes were all that was available on the market when they purchased.

Many would likely contemplate a more central, smaller, convenient, care-free city property. Dunedin's historic and compact nature means wonderful inner-city areas perfect for transforming into urban-residential environments are, with imagination and investment, available.

Less straight forward is what to do about the growing number of residential properties used as short-term holiday lets. Holidaymakers should not exclude residents from areas a city has earmarked as residential. In a similar vein, is it time mechanisms be enacted encouraging the occupation of vacant homes?

Also complicated is the conflict between wanting to retain Dunedin's compact nature, with the very real need for more land to be available for new houses. Not all the required new land will be found by subdividing existing suburban properties. The question, of course, is where we see new greenfield sites being located.

The Taieri Plain offers proximity to Dunedin and a flat contour - two positive factors. It also floods, is fertile and serves a valuable role as a wealth and produce creator. Elsewhere, the city's green fringes are vehemently protected by residents and the district plan. Much of Otago Peninsula is virtually untouchable for residential development while those wanting to build in Dunedin's rural hinterland must adhere to considerable minimum section size rules. Limiting urban sprawl is important, but new, residential land will have to be allocated somewhere.

In short, the solution will require a combination of many difficult things done well, rather than one simple silver bullet. There will be compromises for many. But the alternative is a shortage of homes. That is not a situation Dunedin wants to find itself in.

But before believing it all sounds too hard, it's worth remembering a few points. Firstly, housing shortages will likely mean increasing values for existing homes. While negative for those not yet on the property ladder, the increased values could be a net positive for the city. For a long time, the quality of Dunedin's housing stock has been considered one of its primary drawbacks. With the value of that stock rising, it is likely homeowners will work to protect and improve their assets - with more and better maintenance, insulation, double glazing and the like.

Secondly, Dunedin does not exist in a vacuum. The country is growing, and competition for valuable assets is always intense. Those assets - like a new hospital, the continuing importance of the University of Otago and its more notable courses, like industry, infrastructure and events - will be progressively harder to obtain and retain if Dunedin, relative to the cities it competes against, shrinks.

Growth, whether we like it or not, is happening and, in the wash, is a good thing for this city. We must accept it brings good and bad and do our best as a city to ensure we are on the right side of that ledger.


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