Gentrification or regeneration?
Brand new properties, well kept gardens and children safely playing in the street under a blue sky is an idyllic image that would attract any new home buyer.
It’s also the picture Housing Minister Phil Twyford revealed last month in the concept drawings that accompanied his announcement that 68 new houses will be built in New Plymouth as part of the KiwiBuild scheme.
The news represents a
$23 million funding injection to help people get a foot onto the property ladder in the city.
Except, with the associated price tag of between $400,000-450,000, the homes are instantly unaffordable for most people living in the very neighbourhood they will be built – Marfell.
The new builds are destined to pop up among existing properties along Discovery Pl and Banks St – a hearty, but historically downtrodden, part of the city.
It’s a place where the medium income works out to be $23,900 a year and it’s an area that has been left to decay – and just plain let down – for years, waiting for the much-needed investment to turn things around.
Some say it has arrived with the KiwiBuild announcement, while others have raised caution about the social impact the scheme will have.
One of those to see the pros and cons is community worker Ruth Pfister.
She says the new homes will increase the number of people living in the suburb, which will hopefully equal a boost in enrolments at the school and kindergarten.
‘‘It’s going to add life to an area that has been sorely neglected.’’
But she feels for those already living in Marfell, who have been shut out from the scheme because they don’t have the means to afford to buy into it.
‘‘They’re the very people who don’t have a hope of being part of the development.’’
Pfister says a mixed model of ownership, including a rent to own option, may have been a better mix for the KiwiBuild scheme in Marfell as it would have given an opportunity for lower income families to get a foot on the property ladder in the neighbourhood they have called home already for years.
‘‘I do feel it’s a missed opportunity for people who have lived in the Marfell community for so long.’’
Housing affordability is an area that has been under the microscope of the Bishop’s Action Foundation of late.
Simon Cayley, its chief executive, is also a director of Catalyst Housing, a charitable company created to address housing affordability issues in Taranaki.
He says the KiwiBuild scheme will bring in a new cohort of families, which would ‘‘mix up the demographics’’ in Marfell but it is no salve regarding the district’s high housing costs.
The 68 new builds, the first of which should be ready by mid-2019, are ‘‘pretty unaffordable’’ and other private homes popping up around the district have ‘‘big price tags’’ too, Cayley says.
He says the development is positive for Marfell but while urban regeneration starts with the goal of uplifting a particular area, there is a danger that it ‘‘takes off’’.
The long-term risk is that existing residents, especially tenants, could be forced out if house prices rise and there is an associated rent hike for private rentals.
Cayley says there is a wider issue of housing affordability in Taranaki and housing options for the ‘‘working poor’’ and older people were increasingly limited so there needed to be urgent action by way of response.
‘‘Otherwise we could end up with quite a big problem down the track.’’
Cayley’s concerns about the future are borne out by the data.
Homes.co.nz chief data scientist Tom Lintern says new properties in New Plymouth come at a premium price and are worth almost 50 per cent more than the typical housing stock.
He says the median value of newly built properties in New Plymouth, since January 2017, is $628,000, which is well above the general median of $420,000.
In Marfell, Lintern says the 88 existing homes in Banks St and Discovery Pl were built in the 1950s and 1960s and have a median HomesEstimate of $230,000.
‘‘New developments in lower value areas, such as Marfell, can contribute to the gentrification of a suburb, resulting in increased property prices and rental costs.’’
The ‘‘g’’ word, or gentrification, is something Glen Bennett, a longterm advocate for the Marfell community, worries about.
Gentrification is defined as the renovation or improving of a deteriorating area, which can have the effect of boosting house prices and displacing low-income residents.
Bennett says the KiwiBuild initiative has the potential to be totally transformative for Marfell.
‘‘It will completely change the make-up and demographic of the community.’’
And there is no denying the construction of brand new homes among the shabby and tired looking stock already there will create a stark scene, a visual representation of the ‘‘haves’’ and the ‘‘haves not’’.
Bennett says the new road being constructed between Cook and Banks Sts, which council officials say should be finished by the middle of next year, also gives him pause for thought.
He says the short cut will provide a way for new residents to avoid engaging with the wider neighbourhood.
‘‘My concern now is that they could potentially bypass the whole community.’’
The attitude of the residents destined to move into Marfell will play a big part in its social success, says one of New Zealand’s leading sociologists. Professor Paul Spoonley, of Massey University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, says while ‘‘envy’’ might be an unfair word, there may be some reaction from existing residents of the neglected suburb, when the better quality housing starts to appear around them.
‘‘People might feel a bit aggrieved about that.’’
But Spoonley says if the families who move in make use of nearby early childhood services, send their children to the local school and make an effort to be part of the community, the wider area will get a boost as a result.
‘‘You need people who will interact and contribute to the social wellbeing of the neighbourhood.’’
Another factor to consider is what will happen to the houses when they go on the market, Spoonley says.
KiwiBuild candidates have to own, and live in, the property for three years before it can be sold.
Taking a wider perspective, Spoonley says KiwiBuild is a real win for the city as providing an affordable housing option would help keep its population numbers up.
‘‘When you look at New Plymouth, one of the major challenges is maintaining people,’’ he said.
Glen Bennett bought his first home in Marfell because it was the only affordable option for him at the time. This is what the Marfell suburb will look like when the KiwiBuild construction gets under way. Community worker Ruth Pfister says the KiwiBuild scheme is a chance to revive the neglected suburb, but the housing cost is too high to benefit existing residents.