HOW TO FIX THE HOUS­ING CRI­SIS

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This is a story about hous­ing sup­ply and how we can get more of it. It’s not about the in­creased cost of hous­ing or the dif­fi­culty young peo­ple face get­ting their first home. It’s about the fact we need more homes.

It’s based on the knowl­edge that for some years we haven’t built enough homes to shel­ter the in­creas­ing pop­u­la­tion. Cost and sup­ply are re­lated, but if there’s to be a dis­cus­sion about buy­ing homes, there need to be homes to buy.

“At the mo­ment we’re pro­duc­ing un­der 7000 homes a year in Auck­land,” says Pro­fes­sor John Tookey, head of AUT’s Depart­ment of Built En­vi­ron­ment. “We need 15,000 a year, so year on year we’re get­ting a big­ger gap.”

One way to close the gap may be to think dif­fer­ently about the kind of dwellings we in­habit.

Maybe we can’t con­tinue to live in free-stand­ing houses on their own patch of land.

For­tu­nately, there is no short­age of those. Whether you’ll like them or not is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter.

TRIG­GER WARN­ING Nim­bys may find most as­pects of this

story dis­tress­ing. Paul Lit­tle re­ports.

MEDIUM IS THE MES­SAGE

Medium-den­sity liv­ing has been Auck­land City Coun­cil pol­icy since when­ever, and forms the ba­sis of the Uni­tary Plan.

This is a Euro­pean-style model of semi-self-suf­fi­cient com­mu­ni­ties con­nected by stream­lined public trans­port link­ing to each other and to the nat­u­ral as­sets that are our bor­ders: the Waitem­ata and Manukau har­bours and the Waitakere Ranges. It in­volves en­cour­ag­ing con­struc­tion of a va­ri­ety of homes, notably groups of low-rise apartment build­ings clus­tered around parks, shops, trans­port hubs and other fa­cil­i­ties.

And it has been op­posed, brick by brick, ev­ery step of the way, by Nim­bys who think it sounds like a great thing to do, but only if it’s done over there.

But the Nim­bys are be­com­ing out­num­bered by other, younger peo­ple who are mak­ing them­selves heard. There are signs over­seas the back­yard worm may be turn­ing, as mil­len­ni­als iden­ti­fy­ing as Yim­bys (Yes In My Back­yarders) ad­vo­cate a hous­ing rev­o­lu­tion.

In ci­ties “from Seat­tle to Syd­ney, Austin to Ox­ford” re­ports the

Guardian, groups are or­gan­is­ing them­selves and de­mand­ing hous­ing — any hous­ing — be built, but prefer­ably high-den­sity and sup­ported by public trans­port that would ob­vi­ate the need for cars.

The mod­est medium-den­sity plans for Auck­land seem like a so­phis­ti­cated and civilised op­tion in the face of such rip, shit and bust ac­tivism.

GROW UP

Apartment tow­ers are his­tor­i­cally the least-favoured so­lu­tion, yet they fit more folks per floor than any other. One rea­son tow­ers have not found much favour here is we like be­ing able to see a fair whack of sky wher­ever we are, and we en­joy the views of our pre­cious vol­ca­noes from so many points.

We have also been put off by the per­cep­tion of the UK’s post­war public hous­ing tow­ers. Th­ese form the seedy back­ground to in­nu­mer­able TV crime dra­mas and dystopian nov­els, with their alien­ated in­hab­i­tants, graf­fiti spat­tered stair­wells dou­bling as drug mar­kets, and sheer ug­li­ness.

Which is a pity, be­cause there is no rea­son why they shouldn’t work if the ear­lier prob­lems are ac­knowl­edged and ad­dressed.

“Cer­tainly there were mis­takes with tow­ers in terms of tech­nol­ogy,” says Tookey.

“You do need out­door ar­eas at al­ti­tude. Peo­ple don’t want to have to get in a lift and travel to go out­side. You need roof gar­dens.” And the rest. Last year the

Fi­nan­cial Times re­ported a re­vival of in­ter­est in high-rise liv­ing, made more palat­able by such in­no­va­tions as events spa­ces, ten­nis courts, play­grounds and even, God help us, com­mu­nity fes­ti­vals. Open air gyms or chil­dren’s play­grounds can be pro­vided at sev­eral lev­els. It seems the sky’s the limit .

SHARED DE­LIGHTS

If you play well with oth­ers, coop hous­ing may be the op­tion for you. Auck­land ar­chi­tect Thom Gill of Stu­dio Nord is in­volved in a project called co­haus, a form of co-op­er­a­tive hous­ing orig­i­nat­ing in Europe. It works well, he re­ports, with eight groups, but works best when there are 15-25 house­holds in­volved.

He sums up the ad­van­tages of co-op­er­a­tive hous­ing as: “The align­ment of in­cen­tives. Good-qual­ity hous­ing that lasts a long time — be­causethe­own­er­sare­go­ing­to­live in it them­selves; rea­son­ably priced with money spent on the right things — be­cause it’s the own­ers’ money and they de­ter­mine how it is be­ing spent; pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion to the lo­cal com­mu­nity — be­cause the own­ers are go­ing to be part of that com­mu­nity them­selves.”

As for the build­ings, co-hous­ing takes a range of forms.

“The im­por­tant thing about it is a pre-ex­ist­ing group of peo­ple who are all work­ing to­gether. The peo­ple have to form up be­fore­hand.”

He has the peo­ple — 14 house­holds ready and will­ing — for an Auck­land devel­op­ment.

Much of the bricks and mor­tar will be fa­mil­iar to those liv­ing with a body cor­po­rate: “The whole site is held in com­mon — ev­ery­body shares own­er­ship and use of the land­scap­ing and the court­yards.”

Be­yond that, “We’re look­ing at hav­ing a com­mon room that is a flex­i­ble space for par­ties or din­ners. There could be a big bike shed be­cause lots of peo­ple are keen on cy­cling, with charg­ing points for elec­tric bikes. We’re also in­ter­ested in a pair of shared cars that would be owned by the body cor­po­rate, so peo­ple can ditch their own cars but a car will still be avail­able.”

And then there are the so­cial ad­van­tages. The com­plex is de­signed, says Gill, “to sub­tly en­cour­age peo­ple to run into each other. That’s dif­fer­ent from apart­ments where pri­vacy is first and fore­most.

“In our case, there’s a com­mon path­way around the in­side of a court­yard lead­ing to most of the units, which is how you get to your front door. You pass other peo­ple’s doors and run into peo­ple.

“Fun­da­men­tally it’s more so­cia­ble.”

GROWN-UP FLATTING

A quar­ter of New Zealand homes have just one oc­cu­pant, so it’s clear they do not need a kitchen, bath­room and bed­rooms de­signed for a fam­ily of four or more. And per­haps they could share fa­cil­i­ties with other res­i­dents.

Ja­pan, where limited space and a large pop­u­la­tion have long driven in­no­va­tive hous­ing so­lu­tions, has some con­spic­u­ous ex­am­ples of pur­pose-built shared ac­com­mo­da­tion.

A stand­out project that will pre­sum­ably in­spire many im­i­ta­tors is a three-level, 12 bed­room, shared oc­cu­pancy home in Nagoya, de­signed by Naruse-Inokuma Ar­chi­tects. It com­bines in­di­vid­ual bed­rooms with shared kitchens, liv­ing spa­ces and bath­rooms. The firm aimed to make it easy “for com­plete strangers to nat­u­rally con­tinue to share spa­ces with one an­other”. The liv­ing spa­ces, for in­stance, are de­signed to work equally for large groups or just for one or two peo­ple.

If this home is the gold stan­dard, around the world there are less so­phis­ti­cated ex­am­ples of shared hous­ing, in­clud­ing tra­di­tional stu­dent flat ar­range­ments where the stu­dents are mid­dle-aged pro­fes­sional and busi­ness peo­ple.

GRANNY FLATTING

In many cases fam­ily homes and the tra­di­tional sec­tions they stand on are un­der-utilised. The kids move out and — some­how — find their own home and start a fam­ily.

Mean­while Mum and/or Dad cling to the orig­i­nal fam­ily home un­til both die and the kids can fi­nally sell it and get ac­cess to some of the cap­i­tal locked up in it.

If reg­u­la­tions were eased to make the build­ing of a “granny flat” on that sec­tion a straight­for­ward

process, Mum and/or Dad could move in there and the next gen­er­a­tion fam­ily could live and grow in the main house.

The laws about what is or isn’t a granny flat and what can or can’t be done with it have tra­di­tion­ally been con­fus­ing so may need to be ra­tio­nalised.

It’s not a per­ma­nent long-term so­lu­tion — it re­ally only works for one gen­er­a­tion — but it would eas­ily and cheaply dou­ble the num­ber of homes with­out tak­ing up any more land than that cur­rently be­ing used to ac­com­mo­date a clothes line, a barbie and a trailer.

MI­CRO-MAN­AGE­MENT

Or “Honey, I shrunk the granny flat”, be­cause if you can fit one granny flat on a sec­tion you can prob­a­bly fit two mi­cro-houses, usu­ally de­fined as a dwelling of about 50sq m. But there are mi­cro-houses and there are mi­cro-houses.

Ar­chi­tect Sally Ogle of Wellington firm Patch­work Ar­chi­tec­ture, de­signs “mostly small houses — 100sq m rather than 200sq m. That’s a sen­si­ble way of mak­ing places cheaper and fit on smaller pieces of land.” She thinks the mi­cro-home con­cept is of­ten mis­un­der­stood, quot­ing one ex­am­ple that “wasn’t a house, it was an unin­su­lated shed”.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween a mi­cro-home and a ship­ping con­tainer with a win­dow cut in it is the for­mer has to have plumb­ing and there are nu­mer­ous zon­ing and other ob­sta­cles to over­come if it’s to be of­fi­cial. “Any­thing with plumb­ing, you need con­sent for, re­gard­less of size,” says Ogle. Al­though mi­cro-houses might be ad­e­quate for a sin­gle­ton or a cou­ple, she points out they don’t suit any larger unit than that.

THE WASTE LANDS

The so­lu­tions listed here are in gen­eral based on the be­lief we have used up enough of our not-so-wide open spa­ces and need to pre­serve as much as pos­si­ble of what’s left for recre­ation, grow­ing food and gen­eral eco­log­i­cal well­be­ing.

How­ever, many pieces of land are be­ing used in waste­ful if not ex­trav­a­gant ways.

When was the last time you drove past a golf course and said to your­self: “Wow, look at that place — it’s packed!” We al­most cer­tainly have more golf cour­ses than we need: 22 in the greater Auck­land area. In fact, we are “sec­ond in the world for the num­ber of cour­ses per capita for the pop­u­la­tion of 4 mil­lion, so get­ting on the tee is never a prob­lem”, boasts golf.co.nz.

Like­wise, pock­ets of in­dus­trial land are ly­ing semi-dor­mant. Imag­i­na­tive re-use of in­dus­trial sites is com­mon around the world and could be made to work here.

Car yards take up a vast amount of valu­able ur­ban space. And do we re­ally need all those de­mo­li­tion sites where tonnes of tim­ber and scrap metal take up space for years wait­ing for some­one to find them a home — or to use them to make one?

MIX THE GEN­ER­A­TIONS

This is hardly a new idea — it’s how do­mes­tic life used to be struc­tured and still is in many so­ci­eties. So don’t kick Gran out — keep her in the spare room. You get free babysit­ting and home­spun ad­vice. Hav­ing the kids around will keep her young and healthy. And the kids will have an ob­jec­tive third party to whinge to when you can’t be both­ered be­ing rea­son­able with them.

In Europe, they’ll tell you this is why sev­eral gen­er­a­tions live un­der the same roof. But the main rea­son is be­cause it means they don’t need as much hous­ing as they oth­er­wise would.

THE MARAE MODEL

This is a pos­si­ble ver­sion of co-op hous­ing mod­elled specif­i­cally on the marae struc­ture. Its vi­a­bil­ity is one of many vi­sion­ary pro­grammes be­ing re­searched un­der a lit­tle-known gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tive, cost­ing many mil­lions of dol­lars and called the Na­tional Sci­ence Chal­lenge, where it comes un­der the head­ing “Build­ing Bet­ter Homes, Towns and Ci­ties”.

Ella Henry, lec­turer in the Fac­ulty of Māori In­dige­nous Devel­op­ment at AUT, stresses it is early days, but: “Those of us in the Māori re­search team be­lieve tra­di­tional Māori com­mu­nity or neigh­bour­hood mod­els may still be ap­pli­ca­ble in a con­tem­po­rary en­vi­ron­ment.

“All that means is a com­mu­nity that cares about hav­ing a com­mu­nity cen­tre, gar­dens, child­care, walk­a­bil­ity for el­ders and find­ing roles for el­ders as vol­un­teers or work­ers in child­care. Those are the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of tra­di­tional Māori and they trans­late well to a con­tem­po­rary set­ting.”

What’s new is that th­ese marae will go not out but up — say to three storeys, be­cause a num­ber of Treaty set­tle­ments in­volve small­ish blocks of land in ur­ban ar­eas, such as those held by Ngati Whatua in Orakei and Ngati Paoa in Point Eng­land.

A vis­i­tor could ex­pect to feel “like they were walk­ing onto a marae. For in­stance it could have a gate­way like that at the Aotea Cen­tre, which is philo­soph­i­cal rather than prac­ti­cal, but can be used as that on cer­tain oc­ca­sions.”

AB­SO­LUTELY PRE-FAB

John Tookey preaches a pre-fab­ri­cated so­lu­tion to the hous­ing short­age.

Our use of pre-fab hous­ing goes back to colo­nial days, when com­po­nents were shipped out from the old coun­try and as­sem­bled here. Like im­proved high rises, to­day’s pre-fab homes have cor­rected the er­rors of the past, most no­to­ri­ously ex­em­pli­fied in the post-war US cookie-cut­ter com­mu­nity of Le­vit­town, Penn­syl­va­nia.

The cur­rent con­struc­tion model means “ev­ery house is its own sup­ply chain — there is no con­sol­i­da­tion of de­mand by hav­ing a con­sol­i­dated or­der­ing sched­ule,” says Tookey. You build one house. Then you build the next house, which slows down build­ing.

Pre­fab­ri­ca­tion, he points out, does not mean con­form­ity. Af­ter all, many dif­fer­ent Maz­das are on the mar­ket but “five mod­els are pro­duced on the same pro­duc­tion line in a fac­tory in Hiroshima”.

Stream­lined pro­duc­tion is the an­swer be­cause “if we’re pro­vid­ing half as many homes as we need to, there’s only two ways you can go. You ei­ther dou­ble the num­ber of peo­ple build­ing homes or dou­ble their pro­duc­tiv­ity. Or a mix.”

His views are echoed by As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Masa Noguchi of the Uni­ver­sity of Mel­bourne’s School of De­sign, a prophet of the oxy­moronic “mass cus­tomi­sa­tion”. He ex­plains: “Mar­ket re­search says to­day’s con­sumers are no longer sat­is­fied with generic, mo­not­o­nous prod­ucts.”

But op­pos­ing forces at ei­ther end of the sup­ply equa­tion are at work: “Builders, to achieve mass de­liv­ery, try to en­hance the level of prod­uct stan­dard­i­s­a­tion, but the mar­ket is de­mand­ing en­hance­ment of the level of cus­tomi­sa­tion to ac­com­mo­date di­verse ends and de­mands.”

Noguchi de­scribes “a par­a­digm shift from mass pro­duc­tion to mass cus­tomi­sa­tion. Which means stan­dar­d­is­ing many com­po­nents to de­liver cus­tomis­able prod­ucts. Th­ese com­po­nents could be stair­cases, win­dows, doors, in­te­rior and ex­te­rior as­pects.

“The buyer picks com­po­nents and puts them to­gether like Lego blocks. So the com­po­nents are mass pro­ducible but the fi­nal prod­ucts are cus­tomis­able.”

PA­TIENCE

Baby boomers are about to start dy­ing in hith­erto un­prece­dented num­bers, leav­ing their prop­er­ties to a gen­er­a­tion that is smaller in num­ber than theirs, im­prov­ing the ratio of houses to peo­ple. So for many peo­ple in need of a home, the only thing they need to do is wait. But that is prob­a­bly the least pop­u­lar op­tion of all.

Ella Henry Alyson Young Pho­tog­ra­phy

John Tookey

Thom Gill

Th­ese Dan­ish and Ja­panese ex­am­ples of shared hous­ing units demon­strate an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar style of liv­ing, where com­mon ar­eas are used by all in a small com­mu­nity. Dorte Man­drup Arkitek­ter, Naruse Inokuma Ar­chi­tects

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