Living in parks and tents: Central Hawke’s Bay’s mayor’s plea to Govt to solve crisis

Central Hawke’s Bay mayor Alex Walker says an opportunity to develop the abandoned Waipukurau Hospital site may have finally arrived.

Walker listened to the Government’s housing intervention on Tuesday and when she heard that $3.8 billion would be set aside to fund new housing infrastructure, her ears pricked up.

Walker says the “heartbreaking” plight her district faces when it comes to housing is every bit as bad as Napier and Hastings, but its low ratepayer base doesn’t give her council the options to solve it.

She’s recently seen examples of people living in parks and tents in the district.

“Everyone in Central Hawke’s Bay knows that there is a large and logical development site in central Waipukurau around what was the old hospital,” Walker said.

“Infrastructure investment in areas like this could make a huge difference.”

The land was identified as a priority area of growth in the council’s integrated spatial plan in 2020.

A council spokesperson said the council was working with the owners of the current hospital site, the surrounding vacant land owned by Land Information New Zealand ownership and other surrounding private landowners to co-ordinate development.

Long-term there are opportunities for mixed-residential housing, the spokesperson says, but wastewater and stormwater challenges are what present a major constraint to development.

Recent developments provide hope though.

Across the road from the hospital Kāinga Ora is in the concept stage of planning 39 homes for the old Raymond Maternity Annexe property at 118 Pōrangahau Road.

Kāinga Ora senior stakeholder relationship manager East North Island region Dale Grant said the plan would include social housing and properties for first-home buyers and construction would take 18 months to two years.

Walker said she hoped additional funding would accelerate development on the land, which Kāinga Ora purchased in mid-2020.

She said there were 68 people on the housing register in the district as at March, and it can’t be up to her council or private investors to find homes for all of them.

“It’s not just the cities, this is affecting us as well. But we don’t have the options, we don’t have community housing providers in CHB. Our private rental market has been picking up the slack in the public housing space for some time and it’s just not coping.”

The council owns and manages 48 public housing retirement units, but the Government subsidy available to other community housing providers – the income-related rent subsidy – isn’t available to councils.

“There is not an even playing field for councils to participate in increasing housing supply which is incredibly frustrating – particularly in a small community like ours where other options are limited,” Walker said.

“Some councils have sold or leased their housing to other community housing providers to expand the portfolio but we don’t currently have that option – there is no one else.”

In Wairoa, mayor Craig Little says per capita the 85 people on its housing register is no different to the rest of the region.

“We’ve probably got up to 500 houses that we need pretty quickly.”

Little is concerned that a Government approach to the region as a whole may mean Wairoa misses out, with importance going to the bigger cities.

In Wairoa, the urgency is in the social housing space and with families living in motels, a Kāinga Ora development would help “big time”.

Little said councils are “pretty tapped out” and after funding infrastructure such as roads and three waters, there isn’t a lot of money to spare.

Government investment in infrastructure would be welcomed, but he is worried Wairoa may miss out to bigger areas.

Opening up land for development is “no worries in Wairoa”.

“We don’t own huge parcels of land like the other councils but we do own parcels of land that probably tomorrow could put up 80 houses or more, there’s a good start there.

One of these areas of land is council owned Powdrell Park which about nine years ago the council put out for tender with no luck.

Right by the township and hospital it would be handy to everything for housing and there is also private land around which could be developed, Little said.

“Probably 10 or 15 years ago in Wairoa you could hardly give a section away and now they’re selling for $80,000 or more. That’s exciting.”

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