Assisted housing for key staff makes comeback
A house not too far from work is a pipe dream for many workers, but not for Defence Force staffer Sean Donaldson.
Donaldson and 11 of his colleagues have moved into below-market-price housing from Fletcher Building in the company’s 650-home subdivision close to the Whenuapai air force base.
Donaldson and his wife Dianne had been living on the air force base with their toddler Joshua for five years, which gave them a chance to save a deposit.
However, the maximum they could stay there was six years, so they were desperately on the hunt for new digs.
The area they were keen on was a 50-minute drive away. But it wasn’t close enough for Donaldson, who at the time worked in offshore search and rescue and had to be within 30 minutes’ drive of the base when he was on standby.
‘‘It was very difficult because there was just no way we were going to be able to afford what we wanted anywhere near Whenuapai air base.’’
Fletcher’s two-bedroom, 88 square metre terraced house was more compact than what they were looking for, but it has been great, he says.
‘‘Once we were in here, it was quite surprising how comfortable we were, and we’re seriously thinking of staying here longer than the three-year limit ... We’re very happy living here.’’
The one catch with Fletcher’s offer is that those moving in must live there for three years before being able to sell.
Keeping key workers in the city is a passion project for Steve Evans, head of Fletcher’s residential and development arm.
In his previous career, he formed a company in London dedicated to finding intermediate housing for core workers – ‘‘the nurses, the bus drivers, the cleaners, the police, the firemen that are so necessary to run our major cities but could not afford to live anywhere near London in any decent accommodation’’.
At the air base, Evans learned that some staff were travelling long distances to work there.
‘‘We can see a scenario particularly for social services – nurses, ambulance, fire, police, you could make a case for teachers as well.’’
AUT construction professor John Tookey
‘‘There’s people at Whenuapai who are living at Devonport, there are people at Whenuapai who are living in south Auckland.
‘‘We’d been working with the base commander, and a couple of people said they’d love to be living here, but can’t, it’s getting a bit expensive. So we said, ‘let’s have a look at that’.’’
They offered the base some of the subdivision’s more affordable houses at a price of just over $600,000 – still high but well below the area’s median of $865,000.
Evans says Fletcher Building would like to do more in the key worker space. ‘‘As a community participant, we’ve almost got an obligation to do some of this. We’d like to be working with government, working with other providers to say, ‘how does that work’?’’
AUT construction professor John Tookey says assisted housing is nothing new. It stretched back to officers’ messes, police watch houses, nursing accommodation and teachers’ houses that had long since been sold off.
Today’s version would possibly take the form of company-subsidised housing or government-backed shared equity loans, to keep the best and brightest talent – ‘‘particularly if you’re moving them around on a regular basis’’.
‘‘We’re going to go forward to the past ultimately. You either pay people an enormous wage to live in Auckland, in the same way that you get London weighting, or alternatively you subsidise their accommodation.
‘‘Is there scope to do this more? Absolutely. We can see a scenario particularly for social services – nurses, ambulance, fire, police, you could make a case for teachers as well – you could make a very strong case to roll this sort of scheme out.’’
Sean and Dianne Donaldson pictured with their 19-month-old son Joshua outside their new home close to the Whenuapai air force base, north of Auckland.