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Lease for Wellington affordable rentals

Lease for Wellington affordable rentals includes thirty percent increase in occupancy availability, wheelchair access

The first of Wellington's affordable rental apartment blocks will now be able to house thirty percent more renters than previously anticipated, with two more floors released in the building, the Te Kāinga Project announced today.

Te Kāinga - a social impact initiative of The Wellington Company - was created in late 2018, with the intention of limiting the rise of rental prices in central Wellington.

The first-of-its-kind model is the brainchild of Ian and Alex Cassels, who see it as a response to growing pressure on Te Aro’s rental supply and prices. The model (https://www.tekainga.nz/) aims to make renting in the central city affordable for key workers and middle income earners, such as government employees, nurses, teachers, police and hospitality sector workers, through converting existing commercial stock into high quality housing and public-private partnerships.

In September 2018, The Wellington Company and the Wellington City Council agreed to embark on a pilot project for 31 apartments, comfortably housing 100 people, at 195 Willis Street. This is believed to be the country’s first-ever public-private partnership for affordable rental apartment conversion.

This agreement was a concrete step towards realising the council’s vision of ‘All Wellingtonians Well-Housed,’ while at the same time being the first cab off the rank for The Wellington Company’s Te Kāinga Project.

As of today, the parties have signed the inaugural lease agreement for 195 Willis St, which includes a further 21 apartments being released in the building, bringing the total to 52 apartments, with the capacity to house approximately 150 people. The addition of the extra apartments means that one hundred percent of the building will now be used for affordable rental housing.

The apartments will include double glazed windows, free Wifi, efficient heating, free garbage disposal, and brand new whiteware. The increased stock means there will be a number of purpose-built wheelchair-accessible apartments in the building, Cassels confirmed.

In 2018, the building, formerly Freemason House, was gifted the name Te Kāinga: Aroha by mana whenua.

The Wellington Company Managing Director Ian Cassels says the project came out of an urgent need for rental housing in central Wellington.

“What we tried to build was a model whereby we can deliver supply at speed, the rents become progressively more affordable over time, and tenants can expect long-term tenure in high quality apartments. We wanted to partner with a housing provider who had a vested interest in seeing renters’ needs taken care of. The Wellington City Council was a natural fit as a partner, given its extensive experience in delivering housing.”

A report produced by economist Shamubeel Eaqub showed that the capital’s rents were outpacing wages and were increasing at a rate double that of inflation.

The inner-city rental market is in need of a reset, Housing Portfolio leader and Lambton Ward Councillor Brian Dawson said. “It’s crucial that people working in the city can afford to live here too. This is just the beginning but it’s an encouraging start. An extra 21 apartments in the first building will have a real impact.”

The creation of the accompanying policy is underway, Dawson said. “The policy will set out what affordability looks like. It needs to be at no extra cost to ratepayers, while ensuring the apartments remain affordable for the target group.”

Dawson says that, given what is considered 'affordable' is relative depending on the groups being addressed, the council is looking to ensure that the starting point for setting rent is realistic.

“Te Kāinga caters to those that do not meet the criteria for social housing but are being pushed out by rising rents. We’ll be using the Wellington Housing Affordability Model to inform who exactly that group is.”

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester says he is supportive of a wide range of housing solutions for the city, and is encouraging more developers to think outside the box when it comes to housing. "Offering choice, quality and affordability in housing is key to attracting and retaining the diverse mix of people that set Wellington apart from other cities in New Zealand. We are continuing to look at more proposals from a range of parties who can come up with creative, cost-neutral ways to deliver housing."

The Wellington Company has an additional three commercial buildings ready to be converted, creating up to 500 homes in total, Cassels said. “195 Willis Street was the pilot for Te Kāinga and our hope is that we see more of these being rolled out across the city.”

“We want other developers to be able to take the Te Kāinga model and apply it in partnership with housing providers. To create meaningful change in Wellington’s rental market this model needs to be applied at scale.”

Ends

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