Who are we building for?


    The survey pegs have just gone in on the section next door – that’ll be the third new home on the surrounding empty sections in the past few years. No doubt there will be more.

    What’s going up around us are predominantly beautiful, warm, well-appointed homes built by people who want somewhere lovely for themselves to live. Not palaces by any stretch of the imagination – just good, solid homes on good, solid sections for good, solid owners to live in.

    It’s part of a building boom that politicians have been crowing about after the revelation that in the 12 months to the end of April, 42,848 new homes were consented – that’s up 15.2 percent on the previous 12 months and at a construction value of $15.842 billion, up 16.3 percent on the previous 12 months.

    And issues such as the ridiculous costs of consents, a chronic shortage of building timber and a nationwide dearth of construction workers aside, this rush isn’t looking likely to stall any time soon – especially not on Waiheke.

    The issue here, however, is not how we’re building, it’s what we’re building. All these owner-occupied homes are wonderful for those who live in them, but the pages of Gulf News are packed weekly full of stories about businesses losing workers who can’t find rentals, about families moving off island because they can’t find suitable (or affordable) accommodation, and – most appallingly – about people forced to live in sub-standard buildings.

    This winter – coming as it does amid an economic crisis brought on by the lingering pandemic and the border closure – will see the toughest conditions for some of those on the island in living memory. It will doubtless see the chasm between Waiheke’s haves and have-nots widen and become more visible.

    How Waiheke navigates this growing gulf in our community will reveal a great deal about our intentions to develop the island.

    A symptom of this chasm is the necessary work being carried out by volunteer groups and charities. Over recent weeks Gulf News has shone a light on the work done by community pantries and fridges to ensure food doesn’t go to waste and the immense need for that free food from those whose weekly income is gobbled up by rents.

    This week on page 20 we detail the work done by housing charity Habitat for Humanity which – with the help of multiple island businesses and volunteers – are distributing 30 Winter Warmer Packs to keep whānau warm and dry this winter. What constitutes a warm, dry home isn’t something many people reading this have to think about – not even when the filthy winter cold blows in as it has this week.

    But for those who do – and those who benefit from the Habitat for Humanity scheme – their experiences are as illuminating as they are heart-breaking.

    Martha Slimm, service coordinator at Waiheke Health Trust says the packs were piloted in Waiheke last year “as part of our response to our whānau experiencing a cold winter indoors with Covid”.

    And as she heralded this year’s follow-up plan to help another 30 whanau, Martha also gave us feedback from those who have and will benefit from the scheme. 

    Last winter, feedback included a three-year-old who received a new blanket – “it keeps me warm”, as well as people saying, “Now that we have a heater, we don’t have to use the oven to heat the house any more. We knew it was dangerous but that was our only option at the time.” And, “I love that we got lots of new blankets as well, so we don’t have to rely on the heater all of the time. I am usually worried about our power bill.” 

    This year, Martha told us of another family who had said they were moving into a new house that was uninsulated and without a heater. “We came to know about your service from Gulf News and were happy that someone is providing to the people who need it. We are feeling very happy to receive all necessary stuff which we require, especially for my baby. Thank you, it is very much appreciated.”

    What’s required to combat Waiheke’s rental crisis – and put an end to the substandard housing that makes Martha’s work so vital – is some kind of build-to-rent scheme on the island. Doubtless this will annoy some who don’t want the type of medium-to-high density housing that this usually requires, but the importance of retaining a diverse community, a homegrown workforce and healthy families surely outweighs that.

    The survey pegs are going to continue to get driven into our earth anyway – somehow we must work out a way to ensure that some of them herald building work that can benefit the full breadth of our population. • James Belfield

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