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A First Look at Wellington’s Affordable Rentals

Pets, Wifi and Lights: A First Look at Wellington’s Affordable Rentals

One year away from expected moving in date, the social enterprise arm of The Wellington Company and the Wellington City Council have unveiled a first look at what prospective tenants such as key workers such as nurses, teachers, police and other public sector workers could expect their affordable apartments to look like.

In September, The Wellington City council announced it was teaming up with the social enterprise arm of The Wellington Company to convert an inner-city building -named Te Kainga Aroha by mana whenua - into affordable apartments, as one of the ways to tackle the city’s accommodation crisis.

‘Too often the solution for housing - and especially rentals - rests only on things like price and quantity. Our starting point was to look at what it means for Te Kainga Aroha to feel like an actual home,’ says Alex Cassels, who is leading the Te Kainga social enterprise project for The Wellington Company, alongside his father Ian Cassels.

‘There are countless examples around the world to show that communities are better off when people feel a sense of rootedness to where they live. To get to that point, people need security of tenure, certainty and control around costs, a degree of agency and ability to have the things around them that make a house feel like a home. With Te Kainga Aroha, we have made a commitment to delivering those outcomes, alongside affordable rents.’

The pilot partnership is understood to be the first model of its kind in the country, with a few more in the pipeline, and will see the council take on a 15-year head lease for a building that can house up to 100 people in one, two and three bedroom apartments. Cassels says a further three buildings in the inner-city have been identified and ringfenced by The Wellington Company for affordable housing.

‘Essentially we’ve got enough room across four buildings to house 500 people who earn too much to make the cut for social housing but don’t earn enough that they can comfortably continue to pay market rents, which will just keep rising. We are totally committed to getting this right. We are looking to the council to take the lead on what the criteria is for affordability, and seeing how we can help to enable that.’

Cassels says that in practice, a lease on a home is tantamount to ownership: ‘This is a good thing. The law makes it very hard for anyone to kick you out, even if your landlords change hands. But the real kicker is that it’s too easy for some landlords to do things like insist on yearly contracts and arbitrary rent increases, so you never really feel like a rental is your true home.’

Cassels says the dignity of the renter is an important consideration. The Te Kainga apartments will have:

* The apartments will look and feel like a home, meaning ample sunlight and space
* The 15-year lease enables Council to pass on security of tenure through long-lease agreements with tenants
* Protective lease to give the tenant pretty much every right of ownership, so that they don’t have to face the prospect that a new owner may kick them out
* Rental increase pegged to CPI rather than market rate, so it will become more affordable over time, and the Council can pass that onto the end tenant
* Free WiFi
* Free garbage disposal
* LED lights to reduce light bill
* Hot water system that reduces bills by 50%
* Pets allowed
* Minor amends allowed
* Brand new whiteware
* Earthquake strengthened to 80 percent of the new building standard.

Cassels says that time is of the essence, and waiting too long will make people look outside of Wellington.

‘The urgency of the issue and the limited space in this city means we can’t afford to take four years to build from scratch. A conversion from commercial to residential can take around a year, which means we are cutting down the time by up to 75%.’

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester says the initiative is one of a number of ways that the Council is addressing housing needs across the spectrum.

‘The affordable slice of the market has different needs to others such as the student sector or the social housing sector. These rentals are for the Key Worker demographic, which includes teachers, nurses, police and other public sector workers. Because the rent is pegged to CPI, what we anticipate is that over time, these rentals become more and more affordable.’

‘We want to work with a range of operators who can come up with solutions to address issues around housing in the city, so we can play to our strengths and those with key assets can play to theirs.’

The council already housed about 3400 tenants in its portfolio of 2090 social housing properties, making it the second-biggest landlord in the country.

Wellington City Councillor and Housing Portfolio Leader Brian Dawson says Wellington has historically high numbers of people renting, so it is important that the needs of the renter remains a priority area.

‘It’s the rental market that we have the best chance of positively addressing affordability in in the next three years. I don’t want the inner city to become home only for those in the higher income bracket. These initiatives help ensure that doesn’t happen.’


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