Comment: Halls of residence a good model for citizens living alone

The 1980s Garden Quadrangle at St John’s College, Oxford.

We don’t build houses for single people but the 800-year-old
example of the Oxford Hall of Residence might be the solution to our problem says Claude Lewenz of the Me Aroha Waiheke Foundation.

The other day, I was told 40 per cent of the people living on Waiheke are solo’s – single people living alone. The national average is 24 per cent.
But we don’t build housing for singles. We don’t address their needs. We really don’t think much about them at all. If we did, what would it look like?
The most innovative approach is 800 years old – the Oxford hall of residence. The solo person has their own suite, a comfortable living space with bedroom, living room and bath, but no kitchen. Instead there is a large, formal dining hall with food prepared and served. For social connection there is the living room often with a large hearth and comfortable chairs, and the library, a place to be quiet among others.
Most importantly, they are elegant and beautiful, having been sponsored by a benefactor to make them wonderful places to live.
Imagine if we started building such places on Waiheke. The suites could be for one or two adults, but not for families with children who are well served since the New Zealand development industry still presumes the need is for the 1950s three-bedroom detached house for husband, wife and two kids.
Food preparation is far more efficient when it is done for the clan than by and for a single person. Buying (or growing) in bulk saves money and the food is prepared more efficiently and, with good cooks, more creatively.
The balance of public and private is most important, with the suite being comfortable enough to be a refuge, while the commons becomes the place of socialising. Governance is important, and in this the residence halls sorted it centuries ago – it’s all about ensuring folks get along with each other.
Such halls also provide for aging. The older you get, the more respect you earn, and since basic needs are provided for, when you stop driving, it’s not important; no need to move to a retirement home.
To make such a place affordable it needs to form in the same way those Oxford halls of residence formed – not by a developer driven by pecuniary interest, but by the future residents coming together and, if possible, by finding a wealthy benefactor who wishes to leave a legacy and help create something wonderful.
Can we do this here on Waiheke? Of course we can, except that ironically, the authorities charged with the duty to enable people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural wellbeing (i.e., the purpose statement of the Resource Management Act) will have locked up land use to make it much more difficult to find an affordable parcel of properly-sized land that can be used.
We can do it but, under normal circumstances, to get consent could take decades.
What needs to happen is for the people to come forward to form the community and ask to be enabled. The officers won’t know what to do with this, since the
current process is to enable consultants and officers to declare effects will be minor to then enable developers to build same-same. However, the pressure is growing so great on Auckland Council that central government just might latch on to the idea and push it through.
While we may be small, we do have three MP’s in Parliament. Let’s see if we can’t become the innovators that show Auckland how to deal with growth so that it is not just sustainable but also wonderful.
For more on this idea have a look at and answer the survey or contact Claude Lewenz of the Me Aroha Waiheke Foundation, Facebook Me Aroha Waiheke. •

Getting a grip on our real housing needs

If you own a house on Waiheke that you plan to sell or rent, the news is great. Prices are skyrocketing. However, if you are part of the community – still a complete, not yet an elite, community – then the news is not good at all.  Waiheke can’t afford to lose the people who can’t afford to live here any longer.
The children who grew up here can’t afford to remain. The old people who are honoured for their age, and for the fact they have lived good lives and they have taken care of their community needs are being priced out of the market. The folks who came to Waiheke and make it a complete community do not earn enough to pay the ever increasing weekly rent. And then we have the problem faced by the local services and businesses. The schools are finding it hard to attract good teachers, the health services to attract good doctors and nurses.
The island’s hospitality, vineyard and construction industries have the jobs on offer, but the cost of housing makes those job offers unrealistic.
Stories abound about 14 people renting a two-bedroom home, much to the annoyance of neighbours. People are forced to live in cars and tents, yet at the upper end of the market, Waiheke has one of the highest seasonal vacancy rates; hollow homes or ghost homes as second home owners no longer want to be bothered with seasonal tenants.
The issue of affordable housing is not new. In October 2000, the council adopted Essentially Waiheke that devoted a full page to the matter. “Affordable housing is essential for a community that is strong and diverse,” the council wrote, and they set out both an aim and key strategies and actions. Sixteen years on, it is clear that non-statutory documents don’t influence decision-making. To the contrary, during that time, a new district plan was written that envisioned the 1950s Kiwi dream of the nuclear family living in their three-bedroom single-family-dwelling on a quarter-acre section.
The data from Waiheke tells a different story. Reportedly, 40 per cent of islanders are single persons living alone – yet there are no provisions for solo types of housing. There are various examples of solo housing:
• 10m2 Tiny Homes – multiple sleepouts built around a large commons building all of which is defined as a single dwelling. Except that council says no more than eight unrelated people can live in a dwelling
• The Oxford-style Residence Hall – first developed in the 13th Century. These buildings have private suites for single people (or sometimes couples) but no individual kitchens. Instead there is a large dining hall with professional food preparers and large commons space for socialisation.
• Elder housing that is mixed with younger people. Retirement villages segregate people, whereas many elders wish to live in all-age communities where they play the special role elders always used to play.
Waiheke also has need of solo-parent housing, and in a focus group, the parents said they would prefer “quad homes”, four residences with a wide bifold door that opened up onto a shared, enclosed courtyard. When the bifold was open, the other children were welcome to come in, as parenting was shared. In the focus group, these solo parents said they also would welcome an elder person or couple as surrogate grandparents.
There is a need for work-live residences, where a group of people, say artists or people who share working in a small industry, can create clustered living that combines residence with their work. Of course the most ancient of this form of living in Aotearoa is the Papakainga model that Maori lived before colonisation.
A legal structure was needed, and a charitable trust, Me Aroha Waiheke Foundation, was available. An establishment board was appointed and the web site, and Facebook Page Me Aroha Waiheke were set up to put forth the message.
The next job is to move from anecdotal or statistical data to finding out who actually needs affordable housing and what they can afford.
To do this, a survey has been set up. Go to and select the Survey tab. If you know someone who does not have a computer or know how to use it, the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, library and WINZ can help, including printing out the survey.
The survey is both for employers needing worker housing and for people needing affordable housing for themselves. Knowing who needs affordable housing is essential.
Once this need has been established the foundation will press the Council to identify affordable land that can secure resource consent for affordable housing. It also will be looking for donations and funding, since this initiative is being driven by volunteers, and long-term volunteerism on complex matters like this does not work. Once the need, permission and land has been secured, the foundation will build the affordable housing, or find a social enterprise to do it. Action not talk.
If you wish to get involved in this initiative, please go to the web site or ring Francesca Elischer at 021 104 1427. • Claude Lewenz

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