As­sisted hous­ing for key staff makes come­back

Sunday Star-Times - - Business | Classifieds - Cather­ine.har­[email protected]

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.’’

LAWRENCE SMITH/STUFF

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.

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