Gen­tri­fi­ca­tion or re­gen­er­a­tion?

Taranaki Daily News - - Front Page -

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.

ANDY JACK­SON

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.

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