Skepticism, hope defines govt's $350m community housing plan

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Photo: RNZ / Rebecca Parsons-King

By Stephen Forbes, Local Democracy Reporter

A south Auckland community housing trust says many providers in the region don't have the land, or development plans ready, to take advantage of the government's new affordable housing scheme.

But others in the sector say after waiting six years for funding to build new homes, it's a good start.

The government announced this week that it will start accepting the first applications from community housing providers as part of its $350m Affordable Housing Fund.

It will provide grants worth up to 50 percent of the costs for affordable rental property developments.

But Monte Cecilia Housing Trust chief executive Bernie Smith said many providers in the Auckland region would struggle to take advantage of the scheme.

"I think in Auckland if you are a community housing provider and you're sitting on land it's great," Smith said. "But if you don't already have the property and plans to go, I don't know how you could make it work."

He said there were already supply-side shortages in the construction sector, from a lack of available tradespeople to materials that could impact on the timing of projects while property prices in the region would also add to the cost of developments.

Smith said he planned to meet with officials from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development next week to discuss his concerns.

But he said the scheme was something the Monte Cecilia Housing Trust might have to look at in the future to fund housing if it could make it "stack up".

Too many children in temporary housing - provider

Community Housing Aotearoa chief executive Vic Crockford said the government needed to double down on efforts to build more affordable rental properties and the Affordable Housing Fund was a good start.

"Many households are finding it extremely difficult to pay rent and the impact of that is a swelling transitional housing waitlist and too many of our children in temporary accommodation, unable to put down roots," she said.

Crockford said it had been six years since upfront capital funding was last available for community housing providers to build homes. But she said many providers in the target regions were ready and waiting with projects in the pipeline.

In an announcement on Tuesday Housing Minister Megan Woods said the scheme was an important way to increase housing supply.

"The first $50 million of this fund is targeted to rental developments for lower-income people who cannot afford a market rent but can't access public housing. This will make projects to develop and sustain new affordable rental housing financially viable."

She said the first round of grants would target areas with high housing needs, including Auckland, Tauranga-Western Bay, Rotorua, Napier-Hastings, Wellington and Nelson-Tasman.

Housing and Urban Development Ministry housing and services delivery general manager Jono Fraser said it was willing to be flexible with how grants were rolled out.

"We will work with organisations who have promising proposals on a case-by-case basis to determine when they will receive payments, to make sure funding is available as it is required.

"We are aware that the cost of land in this first funding round will affect the nature of the proposed developments that applicants will submit."

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air