Making room for a new reality

For many people, the Kiwi dream of owning a house on a quarter-acre section in Godzone has become just that.

Increasing urban drift, immigration, and building which has not kept pace with demand have all contributed to a housing crisis in our biggest cities.

Home affordability and land availability are pressing issues particularly in Auckland and Christchurch, and other popular areas such as Queenstown.

The combined pressure now means those tasked with planning at central and local government levels are faced with tough decisions, and many city dwellers are facing a very different reality to that enjoyed by previous generations.

At a fundamental level the choice is between larger dwellings and sections but urban sprawl, or smaller homes and sections but more medium-density inner-city development.

In most centres and regions, including Dunedin and Central Otago and the Queenstown Lakes district, housing is now deemed unaffordable or severely unaffordable and it takes a substantial part of one median income to pay the mortgage on a median-priced house.

The Reserve Bank's loan-to-value ratio restrictions have made getting a mortgage even harder for first-time home buyers, but have taken some of the heat out of the market.

(In Dunedin it is worth noting the rental market compares favourably however, with average rents well below the national average.)

Immediate action is needed in many areas, and long-term planning in all, as the above issues, plus the changes an older demographic will bring in terms of the types of housing required, loom.

It is pleasing therefore to see progress on the issues being made at local levels.

In Queenstown, the signing of a district accord to build 1300 homes in the district in the next three years is a vital step in attacking the housing woes there.

The agreement was signed last week by Housing Minister Nick Smith and Queenstown Lakes Mayor Vanessa van Uden and requires the council to identify and recommend to the Government areas of land suitable for residential development and consents sped up.

The council will not consider setting development criteria, including around insulation and heating. And it is to be hoped consideration would be given to providing affordable dwellings.

The Dunedin City Council has just unveiled revised proposals for housing as part of its second generation district plan (2GP) to be publicly notified next year.

The new proposals have taken into account public feedback, and various changes have been made to the original plans.

Under the new proposals, the total area rezoned for medium-density development would be 470ha, not the 627ha originally mooted, although still twice the current area.

That would allow for more homes, smaller sections and higher apartment buildings in 23 ''clusters'' of medium-density zones (in North Dunedin, some hill suburbs and parts of Mosgiel, Waverley and Port Chalmers) based on proximity to public transport, recreational facilities and other criteria.

Eight new heritage residential zones are also proposed, which would replace heritage precinct rules and focus on protecting character-contributing buildings.

One of the biggest hurdles will be the memory of the quarter-acre ideal.

However, for all those wanting traditional family living, there are as many couples and individuals wanting smaller homes and sections.

Another hurdle will be the likely reduction in inner-city commuter parking availability, already a contentious issue. However, any changes are likely to take time.

Efficient targeted public transport could ameliorate some of those concerns (the ORC's planned public transport overhaul certainly has the potential to do so), as could the city's cycleway network.

A house is a home, and getting the right fit for everyone, while respecting heritage and the environment is no easy task.

But we cannot afford to be complacent if we want to enjoy city living.

While rapid enforced change is unwelcome, if there is careful planning, meaningful consultation, and changes are implemented sensitively and thoughtfully over time, we can surely create buildings and communities that serve people's needs and wants now and into the future.

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