Local Body Elections: Christchurch mayoral candidates on housing

Dalziel, Maxwell, LonsdaleIt’s that time of the electoral cycle where you get a big fat envelope in the mail, with short blurbs about hundreds of people trying to win your vote for everything from the Mayoral office to the local licensing trust.

Who on earth should you vote for? We decided to help you make an informed decision – at least, in an area we are quite passionate about.

Christchurch’s housing issues are, for obvious reasons, unique. We emailed some mayoral candidates to find their views on how the rebuild is progressing, the issues around building consents, and much more. Three candidates replied, including the two front runners, and we thank them all for their responses.

To ensure accuracy we’ve presented all answers in unabridged form. Click the links just below or read from start to finish; we’re all about choice here.

Enjoy, and hopefully this will help you in your difficult decision-making. Most of all, make sure you vote!

Are you happy with the administration and progress of the rebuilding effort so far? What would you change about it if elected?

Are you concerned about how the Reserve Bank’s new loan to value ratio restrictions might affect first home buyers in Christchurch?

Do you think the building consent process is going fast enough, and if not how would you address this?

Auckland and Christchurch property prices seem to be growing far quicker than anywhere else. Do you see this as a problem? What would you think should be done to address accelerating house prices?

What would you do, if elected, to help ensure there are enough affordable houses being built?

Does the Council have a role to play in providing housing for those who can’t afford to buy?

Finally, is there any other reason why Cantabrians should vote for you as Mayor?

 

 

Are you happy with the administration and progress of the rebuilding effort so far? What would you change about it if elected?

LIANNE DALZIEL:

I believe that there are a number of matters which are holding back recovery for homeowners, businesses and the wider community, which must be addressed.  We are building the newest city in the world and it’s exciting.  No one must be left behind.

Homeowners

Many homeowners have been caught in a minefield that they don’t understand and tell me they feel they have no one on their side.

I believe we should sit down as a council with the various arms of government, (including those who write the building guidelines and EQC), and the insurers.  We should write up all the questions that need answers and agree the process for determining the answers in individual cases. Where we disagree we should take those matters to arbitration or court so there is certainty.

We shouldn’t be abandoning the people to take on the insurance companies alone, or worse the council or the government – people are fundraising to cover the costs at the same time as being under enormous stress.

We need to resolve the issues of apportionment so there is no need to make this a stressful, reassessment process for people.  The houses should be fixed as a priority and the apportionment sorted out between EQC and the insurers. If the government needs to provide a letter of comfort to the insurance industry, then that would be an obvious way forward.

This is a plea for a partnership so we can work together on these issues and turbo-charge the recovery in the residential areas that have stalled, which is not just in the east.

Land Issues

If there are outstanding flooding issues that need to be resolved then we need to work our way through that.

Land classifications that were imposed by the government post the earthquake without the public scrutiny that would usually be applied. They have not used the Local Government Act, the RMA or the CER legislation, but rather made Cabinet decisions to “red zone” land and allocate technical classifications to the rest of the land in ChCh.  The analysis was broad-brushed meaning that it is not accurate to each site – there is TC2 type land that is classified TC3 and vice versa.  There is land that ought to be retreated from, due to the lack of flood protection, but this was not included in the ‘red zone’ because the government did not treat lower land levels as land damage covered by EQC land cover.  I have my doubts about that position, but it was the government’s decision.  I believe the Council needs to address these areas in terms of area-wide solutions or retreat and I will be raising this with government should I be elected.

The people of Christchurch need to be able to repair and rebuild their houses and businesses with confidence in the future.

Business Development

Progress in the central city has not been fast enough.  We still have many businesses in residential houses; something which places pressure on our housing stock, our roads and parking in suburban streets.

Many businesses are still uncertain about the development of the city and suburbs. They are therefore not ready to decide where to rebuild or relocate.  A number are holding onto empty lots – waiting for matters to be resolved in the CBD and wider city. We need to make progress so businesses can have some certainty and our residential streets can return to being living streets. We need to ensure property owners, businesses, developers, investors and others have the confidence to make decisions.

Rebuilding our Suburban Villages

Not enough emphasis has been put on suburban and neighbourhood development.  Christchurch has always been a city of connected villages.    We need to recreate our neighbourhood villages and sense of community, including suburban centres, facilities and services including community amenities, community open space, sports and recreational facilities and community greenspace.

Post-quake context presents the best opportunity that Christchurch has ever had to improve its urban form and function. We are building the newest city in the world – we can build back better.  The key is to do it together.  I will ensure Council works in partnership with all the stakeholders – I will bring people together to get things done.

PAUL LONSDALE:

The inner city rebuild is slower than I would have hoped and many private homes are still waiting to be fixed, mine included. I think we need to see a lot more action and be provided with more information around dates and timelines to give people certainty. I would work along side the government to place some pressure on the organisations that are responsible including EQC and the insurers.

BRAD MAXWELL:

No I am not happy with the rebuild progress so far. The multi agency approach is not working, too many levels involved, let’s flatten the structure out, Owner – Insurer, get rid of EQC.

 

 

Are you concerned about how the Reserve Bank’s new loan to value ratio restrictions might affect first home buyers in Christchurch?

LIANNE DALZIEL:

Yes I believe the policy impacts those trying to get a foot on the first rung of the property ladder.  I believe first home buyers should have been exempt from the new lending limits.

PAUL LONSDALE:

My first home I had to save 25% of the value plus have a history of saving with my bank for a 5 year period before I could get a loan. The rules have become more relaxed which has assisted in first home buyers being able to purchase their first home and that has lead to many more people being able to get into the market.

This will have had an impact on house values going up due to increasing in demand. I will be a balancing act to get this 100% right.

BRAD MAXWELL:

Yes I am concerned, the ability for young couples to get into their first home has been tough for years, this cap will make it harder and I do not believe it will slow the housing market down. It will drive the young couples back into renting and make it easier for investors to move in.

 

 

Do you think the building consent process is going fast enough, and if not how would you address this?

LIANNE DALZIEL:

There is no doubt that the building consent debacle should never have happened. The city council was given formal notice by International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) that its right to issue consents would be removed on June 28 if it did not make urgent changes. This final warning came after a report highlighted in The Press in November last year warned the council consents process was failing in 17 areas. This warning should have prompted the mayor to demand weekly reports on progress.  Issuing building consents is a core council function.

That being said I have read the report by Doug Martin, the appointed Crown Manager and I am confident that he has identified the problems and mapped a pathway back to reaccreditation.  He is very aware of the need to resolve the silo mentality that means the council does not have an end-to-end customer process. So I am also confident that his intervention will result in addressing the speed and quality of the consenting process and all the related issues.

And there are some positive signs – Department of Building and Housing key indicators show that new dwelling consents were up 78% in Christchurch in June (compared to a 16% nationally).

PAUL LONSDALE:

No the consenting issue has been a debacle and that is why we lost accreditation.

I have met with the Crown Manager on this issue and they are outsourcing and he stated it will get a little worse before it gets better. However, they have completed all historical consents, and now are working on reduced the backlog. They are processing around 200 consents a week and will lift this shortly to 250 per week so I am confident it will be under control very soon. 

BRAD MAXWELL:

The building consent issue is a big worry, in many cases it takes far too long to get the consent.

In most cases where homes are well designed to a standard foundation and specifications. Only when specific foundation designs are required should the process be different. We need to simplify this process, we could have 5 or 6 standard specifications, pick one that’s your spec, approved in 10 days, away you go.

 

 

Auckland and Christchurch property prices seem to be growing far quicker than anywhere else. Do you see this as a problem? What would you think should be done to address accelerating house prices?

LIANNE DALZIEL:

As the 2012 NZ Productivity Commission report stated:

There are few things more important to New Zealanders than the homes we live in. Housing is a fundamental determinant of wellbeing, central to health, family stability, and social cohesion. Affordable, quality housing is also important for the New Zealand economy.

For most New Zealanders, buying a house is their single biggest purchase, and the cost of owning or renting a home takes a large share of household income. If housing is more expensive than it needs to be, then the cost to individuals and families, and the New Zealand economy overall, is significant. Volatility in house prices also has wide-ranging impacts. Finding ways of making the housing market work better for all is therefore critically important.

Property prices are a problem for home owners and renters.  I understand that this is affecting homeowners and tenants alike.

  • Home owners – With the reduction in housing stock, the Christchurch housing market has experienced house price inflation post earthquake.  However, the annual price increase to July 2013 was 11% for Christchurch. This was slightly higher than the 8% national increase over the same period.
  • Christchurch tenants are now paying an average of $400 a week in rent – 36 per cent, more than they did before the September 2010 earthquake. Over the same period, the average weekly rent for the rest of the country has increased by 11 per cent. Figures from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment show that finding a rental for less than $300 a week is becoming increasingly difficult in Christchurch, with 57% less properties in that price range compared to pre-quake levels.

In addition to the current excess demand in housing (both rental and ownership) due to people exiting the red zone or uninhabitable houses, it is expected extra pressure will be placed on the housing market from the following three sources over the next three or four years.

  • Increase in residential population growth
  • Temporary accommodation for residential repairs and rebuilds
  • Accommodation of construction workers (forecasts suggest the demand for accommodation from construction workers will not begin to ease significantly until 2016).

I will do a number of things to resolve housing issues:

  • For those people still dealing with housing repairs or uncertainty around the outcome of claims – Post-election, I will sit down and talk to EQC and CERA about how we can work together to resolve the housing issues for the worst affected residents.  We need to get this resolved.  It will be a priority.
  • Building consents – I will expect the Chief Executive to ensure that the Council consenting process meets its targets.  I will ask for regular progress reports.
  • I will also sit down with government and the government, charitable trusts, non-profit organisations and private sector to talk about how we resolve issues for badly affected residents in Christchurch. The Council needs to explore housing partnerships with community providers.
  • I will review and seek advice on the multitude of recovery and planning documents and how these interact, for example Land Use Recovery Plan, Regional Policy Statement, District Plan, Urban Development Strategy, Natural Environment Recovery Programme for Greater Christchurch, Psychosocial Recovery Plan.

PAUL LONSDALE:

The only way to address the property prices from increasing is to raise the lending rates level but that also increases the risk of first home owners not being able to afford the higher level of debt similar to the loan ratio restriction.

BRAD MAXWELL:

House prices are market driven, so to slow down the rise in values, it’s a supply and demand situation. Increase the supply (somehow) prices fall. We can’t build enough fast enough.

Slow down demand, prices fall. Either hike interest rates, or take lots of people out the market. Whilst we have low interest rates, the demand will remain high.

Sooner or later the bubble will burst and people will lose money.

Here’s a question for Christchurch, when the rebuild is over and workers start to leave, and we have excess stock, and empty rental, what do you think will happen to values?

 

 

What would you do, if elected, to help ensure there are enough affordable houses being built?

LIANNE DALZIEL:

It is important that the city has the right balance of housing across the continuum from supported accommodation to affordable rental to affordable ownership to a range of home ownership options/choices.  And that the Council plans reflect this continuum.

I am aware that the Land Use Recovery Plan aims to provide certainty for the community, land owners, infrastructure providers and others about where new residential and business development will be located, and how the redevelopment of commercial centres and damaged areas should occur.

It includes the:

  • identification of the location, type, and mix of residential and business activities
  • changes to residential  and business land use policy and planning provision

My first action will be to fully understand the implications of this Plan and the Council’s District plan.

It is also important to remember that Councils role is not just in housing but in building communities i.e. planning for infrastructure and transport network, community centres and recreational areas, shopping centres and open spaces etc.

PAUL LONSDALE:

You could see the development of public private partnerships to allow some under unitised social housing land being intensified for some affordable housing.

BRAD MAXWELL:

Affordable housing will only come about by affordable land, affordability of land is often controlled by development costs, a lot of the cost is set in “development charges” set by the council.

Reduce the development contributions, require the developer to pass that savings on to the land buyer, who must reside there for 10 years. If the property is sold within 10 years, pay up time.

This can be done by restrictive covenants and caveats on title.

 

 

Does the Council have a role to play in providing housing for those who can’t afford to buy?

LIANNE DALZIEL:

Christchurch City Council has been providing low-cost accommodation to low-income residents of Christchurch for almost 70 years, being a pioneer of social housing in New Zealand.  Its housing is a self-funding entity which manages the Council’s social housing, receiving no funding from rates. Asset management, staff and operational costs are all funded through revenue generated from providing the service.

I see no reason for Council not to continue to play a role in the provision of social housing.

However, Council faces many challenges:

  • A housing portfolio which is of a relatively high density and not necessarily compatible with today’s environment
  • a large number of older units and also many damaged units
  • increasing complex needs of tenants and issues of compatible of tenants of varying backgrounds, ages and levels of health

This means it may not be able to repair, upgrade, expand and support its housing portfolio working alone.

I believe it should continue to be a pioneer – and that may mean it needs to look at different ways of delivering social housing.  A number of agencies expressed a willingness to work more with the Council in this way. Christchurch would benefit from an increased number of partnerships

I will work with government, charitable trusts, non-profit organisations and private sector to facilitate the appropriate provision of social housing.

PAUL LONSDALE:

No it is not a traditional role of a council but our council does provide a good level of this service and currently it does not affect the rates.

If we were to introduce more social housing then it will impact the ratepayer and some rate payers are currently struggling to pay the rates / mortgages so any increase could be detrimental for these people who are struggling.

BRAD MAXWELL:

Christchurch City Council is one of the country’s largest landlords, it’s housing stock is old, poorly maintained, and has little return other than capital growth, from a business point of view probably not, from a social point of view it should.

So the need to review the CCC’s social housing stock is important, and see if the council could not enter into rent to own schemes where the tenant, is buying off the council, but the tenants insures and maintains the property, over a long period of time.

 

 

Finally, is there any other reason why Cantabrians should vote for you as Mayor?

LIANNE DALZIEL:

I have the experience and capability to lead this council and unite the people that will help get things done. If you elect me as Mayor I will work tirelessly to:

  • build a high–performing council that is the smart, responsible and  democratic organisation we need it to be.
  • build a Council that is open and honest with everyone.  I will tell it how it is.  If it isn’t good news, then I am not going to pretend everything is ok and that we can get everything that we want. We also need to be transparent  about our decision making so you have certainty about  what’s going on.
  • build a council that works in partnership with business, communities and the government. Progress will only happen if we involve all the people, businesses and communities that give the city its heart.  I want to bring people to the table so that we can hear all points of view and talk things through, rationally and calmly.
  • build a future for Christchurch that is clean, green, safe and smart. That was the biggest message that came through from Share an Idea and that is the vision we need to capture.

The last time the council made us feel excited was that Share an Idea campaign where 10,000 people poured through the CBS arena to share their hopes and aspirations for the future of Christchurch.  I want to reignite that sense of excitement and harness the energy within all our communities so that they are very much a part of the recovery – east and west, north and south, left and right, young and old – One City Together.

PAUL LONSDALE:

I have a huge amount of positive energy and enthusiasm, and a proven track record for getting things done. Actions always speak loader than words.

BRAD MAXWELL:

This city needs new leadership who have the strength to deal to all issues across the board. My thinking is more central than left or right. I am prepared to listen to the communities and develop strategies that bring the communities forward to have a greater say.

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