Many in the area are celebrating the arrival 18 new eco-friendly state houses. Others say Kāinga Ora is continuing to ignore the needs of large Pacific families.
This story was first published on Pacific Media Network
In what seemed like a rare rain-free day in Māngere, around 30 to 40 people gathered in a chilly car park outside a recently completed Kāinga Ora housing development.
The occasion was to mark the opening of Kāinga Ora’s newest block of apartments, which had the special feature of being the government agency’s first “passive” development.
According to Kāinga Ora’s general manager for innovation and construction Patrick Dougherty, the term “passive” refers to the fact that the houses can regulate their own temperature through high quality construction materials and ventilation systems.
The 18 two- and three-bedroom apartments are part of a three level block opposite Māngere College, with each home designed to only cost tenants $1 a day to heat or cool.
“They’ll offer a reduced operational carbon footprint of around 35% and reduced space heating electricity use by 62%, compared to a standard six Homestar Kainga Ora home,” Dougherty said to crowd of high school students, KO employees and local community leaders.
As Dougherty’s opening remarks came to an end, housing minister Megan Woods’ press statement landed in journalists’ inboxes. “This is the highest performing development Kāinga Ora has ever designed,” it read, “and as an innovation pilot, aims to understand the benefits of passive housing and help build capability in low carbon construction.”
The Māngere project is part of a programme that has delivered over 12,000 public houses in the past six years.
Speaking only a few hundred metres away from the Te Ararata creek that burst its banks in January, Dougherty said an additional benefit of the project is improving local infrastructure so Māngere wouldn’t be at the same risk from future floods.
“When you consider the work we did in Mt Roskill and Northcote … the real benefits those projects have had is on infrastructure for the community and the people who reside there – and Māngere is getting the same treatment.”
The new development “is having a significant imprint on the community in such a positive way”, he said.
Community welcomes housing for ‘smaller families’
Still, questions remain whether local infrastructure has been significantly improved given the number of new homes flooded in the Māngere development earlier this year. And while locals welcome warmer, healthier homes, the lack of larger houses is a bone of contention.
Long-time community advocate, and former CEO of Māngere East Family Service, Peter Sykes says he had hoped Kāinga Ora would follow the example set by the Tāmaki Regeneration Company. In Glen Innes, that operator not only undertook a massive public housing redevelopment but also invested in improving business and community services as part of its regeneration of the area.
“I agree that we need housing, but it needs to be housing that’s fit for purpose,” Sykes says. “It should be universal, it should warm and dry, but it should also recognise the context where you are – so don’t build on flood plains.”
“Where’s the urban design for Māngere? Urban design isn’t just houses – it’s also about setting up cafes and community facilities. But there’s no investment going into the business sector for instance to make this development regenerative and sustainable.”
Māngere College students Tulei Salu and Caylis Masinamua are less critical but echo Sykes’ comments.
“[These houses] are ideal for small families and those couples just starting out,” Salu says. “For Pacific families it’s important to have bigger houses or bigger spaces or at least have a garage or green spaces, for people to hang out with their families.
”These will be nice for smaller families, but to be honest I wouldn’t want to live here.”
Masinamua, the college’s co-head girl, says she can see that this type of design is needed to fight issues like climate change but wonders how these homes would suit local families.
“I think they’re good for smaller families to come in [to Māngere] and I guess it’s helping us to prepare for natural disasters.”
Māngere Ōtāhuhu Local Board chair Tauanu’u Nanai Nick Bakulich was also at the opening. He says his board will continue to advocate for more four to six-bedroom homes to be built.
“Whilst it’s great these houses will cater for smaller families, you’ve still got quite a significant amount of families that have bigger numbers and we’ll continue to keep pushing that with central government.”
However Bakulich did acknowledge that building new homes to a eight Homestar standard would make a significant difference to the health issues many in Māngere face.
The long term change KO will bring
Kāinga Ora board chair Vui Mark Gosche is also the former chair of Counties Manukau District Health Board and was the first Pacific cabinet minister in the fifth Labour government.
He’s quick to emphasise the huge difference these houses can make to the wellbeing and health outcomes of South Auckland. But he also acknowledges the size of the houses KO builds is an ongoing matter needing to be considered.
“We’re doing a lot of work around what are the needs of the community around here – and as we demolish the old stock, how many more larger houses do we need, and how many smaller houses,” Gosche says.
“A big feature of the housing waiting list throughout New Zealand is single people,” he adds. “And there’s also a great need for larger family homes within big Pacific communities. So there needs to be flexibility with the way we design houses as the numbers of people living in them can be quite fluid as that’s a normal part of the pacific culture.”
But Gosche also wants people to realise that the work KO is doing now will have significant impact for many years to come – not only because there’s a further 6,000 houses under construction, but because of the impact it’s having on the construction industry as a whole.
”Once it becomes a standard for us [to build at this standard] it becomes cheaper for everyone else, as builders become used to doing it and supply chains have some more confidence.
“Everything we’ve done in the last two or three years has been done at that Homestar standard which is higher than what most of us live in, even my own home – which is bloody cold.”
As dark clouds move in, and a shower begins to spit across the carpark, Gosche reiterates that Māngere will benefit in the long run.
“I think Māngere people welcome the idea of better, newer, drier, healthier houses like this, because the existing housing stock is well past its use-by date. If we can show people this quality of build it makes it even easier to do this sort of thing more.”