As Housing NZ prepares to develop the corner near Russell Brown’s house in Point Chevalier, he muses on the redevelopment, gentrification and spiralling growth in real estate values of the Auckland suburb he calls home.
Last week, I wandered around the corner to watch the news crews assemble outside Jacinda Ardern’s Point Chevalier home in anticipation of the big baby news. As they waited and fiddled with their gear, I realised that they had their backs turned on another story.
It emerged in a letter from Housing New Zealand, headed “Dear Neighbour”, posted on the last working day before Christmas, as if they were racing to get it out the door. It arrived in the quiet week that followed, bringing news of change.
The corner near our house is to be redeveloped. Three old houses – two sides of a duplex and a brick bungalow – will be cleared this year to make way for five new two-storey dwellings, two with two bedrooms and three with four. But the bare facts don’t really convey the resonance of what’s happening.
According to the letter, Housing NZ had the block declared a Special Housing Area and obtained its consents on that basis. I could find no record of that and when I queried the corporation they acknowledged the letter was incorrect, and said the redevelopment had been consented according to the rules of the Unitary Plan’s mixed housing urban zone. All the maps I can see actually show the site as mixed housing suburban, but let’s just say the rights Housing NZ would have had for an SHA are scarcely less than it has now under the Unitary Plan. This is a preview of how parts of the neighbourhood will change over the next three or four decades: it’s what intensification looks like.
There will presumably be some objections. The corner currently has a pleasingly open aspect, but when the redevelopment is finished, it’ll be built nearly to the boundary. It’ll look more urban.
But here’s the thing: these are family homes, and they’ll be built 100 metres from the prime minister’s residence in Point Chevalier. The child she’ll have this year may well go to the recently-completed kindergarten across the road with the children of state house tenants. Her Labour-led government could scarcely have hoped for a more earthy validation of its philosophy – albeit one delivered, ironically, by the policies of the previous government.
In a sense, this is a trip back to the future. A former prime minister, John Key, grew up just this way in Christchurch: in a state house placed alongside houses owned by their middle-class occupants. He and I went to Burnside High School at the same time; he from public housing, me from the modest brick-and-tile my parents bought. We were both lucky in that.
Key rather infamously forgot from whence he’d come when in 2006 as an opposition MP, he described Housing NZ’s plans to build in the green fields of Hobsonville Point as “economic vandalism” which would unfairly impact people who had invested “millions and millions of dollars in their property”. In government, he refined his position to support “affordable housing” in Hobsonville, but many residents still seemed to resent the imposition of having to share a neighbourhood with houses that cost their neighbours less than a million, even though the affordable houses themselves still seem remarkably scarce.
Things are quite different in suburbs with a longer history. A page on Housing NZ’s website details some of the plans to renew its housing stock across the city from Takapuna to Papakura. Over in Waterview, three 1940s duplexes have already been replaced, their lavish sections now holding 17 two and four bedroom dwellings. Fourteen old houses nearby are giving way to 45 new homes. With remarkably little fanfare, Housing NZ is becoming the city’s biggest brownfields developer.
Inseparable from all this is another trend: the spiralling growth in real estate values in almost every suburb. There’s a reason the prime minister lives in a basic granny townhouse: a year ago, even on an MP’s salary and a TV presenter’s earnings combined, that was all she and Clarke Gayford could afford in the electorate she would soon go on to represent. One half of the duplex Housing NZ plans to skittle now has the same valuation as the prime minister’s house.
So this expansion of social housing takes place in a suburb which is, at the same time, gentrifying. Daily Bread opened two weeks ago and has been flat-out selling ten-dollar loaves ever since. And in an impossibly middle-class turn of events, a pop-up e-bike shop on Point Chevalier Road will soon be replaced by one selling organic wines.
But it’s not all one way. Remember that flash new kindergarten everyone’s kids were going to go to? Late last year, it was announced that it wasn’t going to be a kindergarten anymore: the Auckland Kindergarten Association (AKA) was closing its waiting list with the aim of wholly devoting its new facility to KiNZ, its own commercial daycare business. In the face of a swift and furious response from residents, the AKA soon announced it was “reviewing” its strategy.
The kindy’s future isn’t quite assured yet and it’s still possible that Housing NZ will end up placing families in three warm, dry new homes next to a daycare they could never afford to use, but the community’s feelings have been made clear.
Change takes many forms in Auckland now, and the response to it is not uniform. We will be waiting a little longer for new bike lanes along Meola and Point Chevalier Roads because a group of residents upstream in Westmere have managed to pause construction of the safe cycle route in favour of, in their own words, “putting everything back how it was”. But things aren’t going to be put back how they were because things aren’t how they were anymore.
Conservative populism focused on resistance to change is going to be with us for a while yet, but it’s not going to prevail. And Housing NZ’s largely unheralded moves to redevelop in suburbs like ours – more than doubling the number of properties it manages in Auckland – make that even more the case.
The corporation isn’t always right: we submitted against its attempt to spot-rezone its properties on our street as mixed housing urban under the Unitary Plan. The independent hearings panel agreed and, in the end, so did Housing NZ itself.
But it was Housing NZ’s evidence that got the “out of scope” elements back in the plan after Auckland Council took fright. As a result, we are nestled on the edge of mixed housing urban, and Jacinda and Clarke’s place is in amongst it. What this means is that a future Point Chev, girt by bike lanes and bus routes and connected to light rail, will be able to house many more people. Perhaps we won’t be demographically hollowed out like the baby-boomer ghettoes of Freeman’s Bay and Herne Bay.
There will be apartments that don’t cost a million dollars, and hopefully, quite a few that cost less than half that. Future me quite likes the sound of that. Both our sons are autistic and it’s unclear how well they’ll be able to live independently. When we cash up, as we must, it would be nice to think we can downsize to a place nearby – and that nearby, there’ll be social housing for our sons.
We could just sell up and move to Mangawhai – and at times it’s tempting – but I always find myself being drawn back to watching and being part of Auckland’s change. And besides, it’s nice here: last month, the doctor across the road had a neighbourhood Christmas barbecue, where owners and private and public tenants yarned well into the night and drank the good doctor’s excellent syrah. Perhaps next Christmas we’ll invite Clarke and the baby.
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