Rent, Safety, Parking, & Cycling.

In the interests of transparency and candour I’m going to post a few of my replies to some of the more interesting queries I’ve had.

I was asked several questions by a journalist from the Herald, here are my responses.


High rent. For many students living in the Waitemata area is desirable due to the inner city suburbs proximity to Auckland’s universities, which also allows them to save money on transport by allowing them to walk into the city. However, rent in these suburbs is high and with student debt at an all time high how would help student afford to live in these suburbs?

A lot of non-renters are out of touch with how high weekly rents have gotten, what we used to pay for a whole house when I was a student in the 1990s now barely gets you a room. There are no quick fixes in housing, because it takes a lot of time to get new dwellings designed, consented, and built, so short of something drastic happening the rents aren’t going to drop any time soon.

The new unitary plan overlays mean a lot of Ponsonby and Grey Lynn will stay as they are for the foreseeable future but it does enable the construction of about 20,000 more apartments and a couple of thousand more townhouses in other parts of Waitemata. That should help take the pressure off, and as many of them will be smaller dwellings than the villas & bungalows they should cost a fair bit less to live in. They will be quite different from living in a villa, but they’ll be a lot warmer and more secure, and probably closer to uni & work, too.

It’s not a local board thing, but one thing that can be done more quickly is to introduce new rules that are a bit fairer to renters and provide more certainty in housing by having longer tenancy durations and require more justification and longer notice periods if a landlord decides to end a rental agreement. People who want to should be able to treat their rental as a home, not as temporary housing.

Safety. Although safety in Waitemata is good young people feel it could be improved with several minor theft and peeping tom incidences happening through out the year in suburbs such as Grey Lynn and Freemans Bay. How would you address this?

I feel a lot safer now than I did in the 1980s when we had a terrible burglary problem around Ponsonby, but if people feel unsafe the first thing we have to do is believe them. I think we can help by fostering a sense of a community, partly perhaps through formal Neighborhood Watch schemes. If people know that their neighbours care about them, and are keeping an eye out, I think they’ll feel safer.

We also need the police to take it seriously when we report peeping toms or burglaries, it feels like lately burglaries aren’t investigated at all and if we tolerate these kinds of crimes it emboldens criminals and things will get worse.

Residential parking. Many houses in the Grey Lynn area do not have residential parking on the street. This means people from outer suburbs park their cars on these streets throughout the week when commuting to work. This means people who actually live in these areas cannot park outside their own homes. How would you address this?

This problem is only going to get worse as the price of parking in town continues to skyrocket. But the solution isn’t cheaper parking in town, the solution is for people to stop driving to work. To make that realistic we need to provide high quality, quick, and convenient public transport.

I dislike resident parking permits because they just move the problem to the next street or the next suburb, but as the problem gets more acute they might be the only option – the scheme needs to be smarter and cheaper for residents than it currently is though.

Cycling. We have found an increasing number of young people cycle into work and university but many do not feel safe doing so and some have had collisions with cars on busy road such as Karangahape Road and Ponsonby Road. What would you do to improve safety for cyclists? 

I’ve been knocked off bikes on K Rd and Ponsonby Rd and even on a Ponsonby side street (by a drunk driver), so I’m very familiar with how much risk we’re forced to take on by riding bikes and it’s not right that taking a bicycle to the shops or to the movies can now feel like such a dangerous activity. It’s not dangerous because of the bikes, it’s dangerous because of the cars.

I support several measures to improve this: Firstly, more protected cycle lanes to keep cars away from bikes. Improved intersection design, which will make things safer both for people on bikes and for people walking. And last but not least, by expanding the lower speed limits that are currently in place on Queen St and Ponsonby Rd throughout more of Waitematā.

I won’t have control over all of this as a Local Board member, but to me it seems important that we have voices at all levels of local and central government all advocating for better transport, improved housing, and a safer city.


 

I don’t exactly give tight sound bites, do I?

Homelessness

Briefly

  1. Homeless people need housing. Adopt/join Hamilton’s People’s Project, with the aim of providing “Housing First”.
  2. Urgently create temporary dormitories to provide the homeless and vulnerable with housing until enough social housing is made available to house them longer term.
  3. We need to build, in conjunction with central government, more social housing. Call them council flats, or call them state houses, or call them whatever you like, we need to get building.
  4. Build a new permanent shelter to replace the one on Airedale St that was closed in 2014. This will be in association with the churches and charities that are already engaged with the homeless, and will replace the temporary dormitories.

The longer version

The problem facing the homeless is very simple: they have no homes.

We don’t need to invent a solution because it seems like Hamilton’s already found it. They created the People’s Project, inspired by the experience in many cities in other countries, with the goal of providing housing first. As of the time of writing this page the People’s Project had “helped or housed 469 people”. There’s also some detail on Hamilton’s approach in this NZ Herald article: ‘Tackling homelessness head on’.

Unfortunately the signs suggest that we don’t currently have the housing to offer to our homeless population.

According to the Auckland City Mission’s 2016 rough sleeper count there were about 228 identified homeless in the Auckland CBD (177 sleeping rough, the rest were either accommodated in hostels or were in hospital).

Now 228 doesn’t feel like a huge number in a city of 1.4 million, but it’s important to note that it only hit 100 for the first time in 2014, and that was about double what it was in 2013, so the problem has spiked alarmingly in recent years.

We need a solution, but there is no good quick solution.

Because what we really need is more social housing that can take these vulnerable people, house them safely and healthily, while they get their lives back on track, places with some stability. Places they can trust to be there for as long as they need them while they become productive members of society once again.

This requires coordination between central government and other parties as well as the council and will take years to deliver real results, at the least.

But there are bad quick solutions.

Window spikes. (Photo by Jonny Hughes CC-BY 2.0)
Walk through town at night, as I sometimes do, and see the sheer number of people huddled wherever they can find a spot, and you’ll have little doubt that having people sleeping rough on our streets is upsetting, most of them aren’t threatening, they’re just trying to get by, but some of them can be, and that makes our streets worse for all of us (but not nearly as bad as things are for them). But having hostile architecture (not a term I came up with, read this article on Atlas Obscura for more), which are measures installed specifically and intentionally to make the spaces we all occupy less welcoming, also makes our streets worse. And it can also send a message to everyone who sees it – that we do not care about people who are worse off than us. That doesn’t feel like the New Zealand I believe in. (Photo by Jonny Hughes CC-BY 2.0)

And the thing is that this problem is so acute it might well call for bad solutions. Because we have to provide housing for these people wherever we can and get our fellow Aucklanders off the streets, and in the absence of a better option, that might mean we quickly build temporary dormitories in whatever spare space we can find. The council’s Greys Ave civic building has been sitting empty since 2014, and there are other smaller disused buildings around the city that we could lease temporarily for the purpose of getting these people off the streets into safer & healthier, if only short term, housing.

Once that is in place we need to build a new purpose built night shelter to replace the old Airedale Street shelter (which was owned by a coalition of churches) that was closed in 2012. That shelter had 30 beds, the new one will need to have more.

A night shelter is also just a patch on the problem. The solution is long term housing.

Mayoral candidate Phil Goff has suggested putting the disused old Mt Eden prison to use, this is a very practical solution, as it has rooms with plumbing, kitchens, and so on already in place, and sounds pretty solid to me but it might send a rather negative message to the people we’re trying to help and if they’re not willing to go there it’s not going to do the job. It’s worth investigating.

 

Asides and notes

This only addresses the most visible homeless in central Auckland, but the problem is much larger with a growing population of our fellow Aucklanders living in very poor and very precarious conditions, people living in cars, or in garages, or in cramped squalid spaces. There’s no quick solution for them either, because there again the solution is that we have to build and building is very slow.

And for those very few who wish to sleep rough, who prefer life on the streets, all we can do is keep offering a hand up, even in the knowledge that it will be refused.

We need to build new social housing on a scale not seen since the 1940s. We have to bite the bullet and get it done.

 

Housing

The shortest version

We have to build.

The short version

  • Estimates vary but we’re at least 30,000 houses short of current demand, and we’re facing a very large population increase that will put us ever further behind.
  • We’re not building enough houses to catch up, and the houses we are building aren’t affordable for first home buyers, young families, etc.
  • We have to build more high quality medium and higher density housing.
  • We need a coordinated building programme, with central government building/contracting an increase in state housing stock, local government building council flats & emergency housing, and enabling private developers to build the right housing in the right places for the right prices.

The longer version

We have fantastic architects and urban designers in New Zealand.
We have no shortage of design talent.
We have no shortage of innovative construction ideas.
We have no shortage of entrepreneurial people.

But we have a shortage of housing.

Right now we’re at least 30,000 dwellings short of demand (and some estimates say as many as 80,000 short), we’re getting further behind every week, and we’re expecting 700,000 to a million new Aucklanders over the next 30 years and we need to build housing for all of them.

This will mean trusting some of the same commercial developers who have previously done such visibly shoddy work — leaky buildings, dark and claustrophobic clusters of cheap looking but high priced townhouses, towering low quality apartment blocks in the central city, and the total vacuum of joy or life on upper Nelson St — to help us build our way out of the situation we’re in.

We have better guidelines from council, we have the unitary plan providing guidance on what types of housing to build where, and we have the Auckland design manual. So we’re more likely to get better housing than when we didn’t have those guidelines, but there’s still going to be that matter of trust. But we’ll continue improving our consenting process, our guidelines for designers, and we will find a way to get our housing supply under control.

I grew up in a Ponsonby villa, and that’s where my heart lies, but I’ve lived all across Waitematā in Ponsonby, Westmere, Grafton, the central city, and Parnell. I’ve lived in different vintages of villas, bungalows, townhouses, heritage apartment buildings, modern apartment buildings, and all were great for different reasons.

The future of Auckland, for the large majority of people, isn’t going to be in stand alone houses. The quarter acre dream only leads to a nightmare of sprawl, ever increasing roading and infrastructure budgets, and people spending half their lives in cars.

Our housing future is medium and higher density, built close to transport nodes.

It’s not a pipe dream to have a higher density city that’s great to live in – we just have to take a lesson from the likes of Paris and the many other thriving & dynamic cities in Europe and elsewhere around the world. The great O.E. is a fairly typical experience for many New Zealanders, so many of us have visited those cities and we’ve seen that it works.

Everyone who has traveled to those cities also knows that they’ve protected their built heritage. We also need to do that – and do a better job than we’ve previously done, we can never again have the likes of sneaky demolition of His Majesty’s.

We need to demand high design standards, and we certainly need to do better with it than we have in recent years in terms of having some mixed use so that we don’t have housing ghettos that you just sleep in and then have to leave if you want to really live, but instead design and build places where you want to be, where you can get a coffee or a meal and that even have a bit of retail or office space mixed in.

The central government needs to play a very large role in this – we need more state housing, and more government contracted housing developments. We need this to be coordinated with local government building modern council flat-style housing and emergency housing so we never again see families having to resort to living in cars and garages. And we need to encourage commercial developers to build tens of thousands of new high quality affordable dwellings ever year until we’re out of this mess.

We’ve been in this position before, we built our way out of it then, we can do it again.