New Zealanders still crave slice of suburbia

Shared by the lawyers at Auckland Law firm Quay Law. Source: April 2013

The “suburban dream” of living in a standalone home is still alive and well – a finding that could harm Auckland Council’s push for more terraced housing.

As the council looks at how to deal with the city’s growing population and housing crisis under the Unitary Plan, a study it commissioned on current housing intensification could be damning.

Residents from medium density developments in three city suburbs were interviewed about their living conditions as part of Auckland University’s Future Intensive: Insights for Auckland Housing.

Most of the 84 participating households said their way of living was just temporary and for affordability reasons.

“The aspiration of living in detached suburban housing remains strong for both New Zealand-born and new New Zealanders,” the report said.

“The aspiration for suburbia, no matter how unrealistic, is a barrier to the promotion of a compact city that needs to be better understood.

“We need to better understand what the necessary trade-offs are between the suburban lifestyle, whether affordable or not, and the urban lifestyle envisaged for a majority of future Aucklanders.”

It added: “If living in these newer developments is viewed by residents as a transitory stage in their lives, then there are implications for developing the vibrant, liveable, community-orientated local environments promoted in the plan.”

Many of the residents still remained car dependent and public transport was being under-used. Body corporate issues were also problematic with functions not well understood by a large proportion of residents.

Generally, residents were satisfied with their living arrangements – most said the housing offered a sense of security and they were pleased with the proximity to shops, schools, work and other facilities.

Auckland has a deficit of 20,000 to 30,000 houses and needs to average 13,000 new homes a year for the next 30 years to cope with the growing population.

Under the Unitary Plan, 56 per cent of Auckland land – from Orewa in the north to Pukekohe in the south and most suburbs in between – is earmarked for “intensification”, under which building density will be increased.

The council’s chief planning officer, Roger Blakeley, told the Herald the plan still allowed for people wanting to live in standalone homes, and the council was dedicated to giving Aucklanders a “greater flexibility of choice” whether they were looking for a townhouse, apartment or detached home.

When asked about whether attitudes needed to change towards medium density housing, he said: “Different people have different experiences and attitudes.

“In some people’s minds, they judge apartment living by the poor examples around Auckland … we are keen to see high-quality exemplars that will help change people’s minds.”

Mayor Len Brown said one in four Aucklanders already lived in apartments or terraced housing and that demand was growing.

“Aucklanders are clear they want more housing choice not less as our city grows.”

Real Estate Institute chief executive Helen O’Sullivan said leaky buildings had steered people away from developments.

“It is still very much the Kiwi dream … you’ve got your own yard, it has a fence. You can have a dog and a cat and a sandpit. There are different stages in life where that sort of thing is less appealing.”

Downsizing suits couple

Howard and Sherrill Dickie left their big backyard and swimming pool in Blockhouse Bay for an attached townhouse and haven’t looked back.

The retired couple, both in their 70s, wanted to downsize after their three children left home, so they invested in the Tuscany Towers development on Ambrico Place in New Lynn.

They wanted to stay in the area to look after their respective widowed mothers.

“We love the convenience of it, and the fact you can take a holiday and you don’t have to worry about a thing – everything is secure,” Mrs Dickie said.

The three-bedroom home still has enough room for the couple’s grandchildren to stay over.

“I love hearing the children’s laughter,” Mrs Dickie said.

“A wide range of people live here.”

But neighbour Bronwyn Harema would rather live in a standalone home. The medical typist, who works from home, purchased her three-bedroom townhouse six years ago for $272,000.

“It’s what I could afford at the time … let me put it this way, if I won Lotto tomorrow, I’d be somewhere else.”

Model housing

The Future Intensive: Insights for Auckland Housing report commissioned by Auckland Council looked at the following medium density housing developments:

New Lynn: 293 units in nine separate developments known collectively as Ambrico Place, with an average density of 57 units per hectare, within walking distance of what is designated as a “metropolitan centre” in the Auckland Plan.

Albany: Two developments, referred to as The Ridge and Masons, totalling 169 units, with an average density of 67 units per hectare, within walking distance of what is designated as an “emergent metropolitan centre” in the Auckland Plan.

Onehunga: Single development, The Atrium on Main, with 112 units with an average net density of 64 units per hectare, within walking distance of what is designated as a “town centre” in the Auckland Plan.