With last year’s earthquake in Christchurch leaving more than 10,000 homes destroyed, it comes as no surprise that despite the extensive rebuilding efforts currently underway, thousands of residents throughout the New Zealand city of Christchurch continue to face severe housing problems.
Still, the government claims that progress is being made. Last Tuesday, Housing New Zealand, a government organisation that provides housing for people in need, closed a tender to speed up the repair of over 600 of its quake-damaged properties, the first 115 of which will become available beginning in early June.
In addition, a recent agreement whereby the country’s Earthquake Commission (EQC) will pay out $NZ21 million to Christchurch City Council has paved the way for the council to begin repairs to around 280 damaged homes from within its social housing portfolio.
Finally, the government says, the Department of Building and Housing is making progress toward the establishment of a new temporary accommodation village at Rawhiti Domain in New Brighton. Twenty new two-bedroom units are due to be built on the new village site by mid-July, and the government says there is capacity for more as required.
These latest developments, says Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, will build on the momentum from two existing temporary accommodation villages the government has built at Linwood Park in Christchurch City and Kaiapoi Domain in the Waimakariri District.
“Those villages are working very well for residents who need a temporary place to stay while essential earthquake repairs are carried out on their homes,” Brownlee says. “We’re also helping hundreds of households access temporary accommodation with guidance and financial support through the Canterbury Earthquake Temporary Accommodation Service (CETAS), a joint venture between the Department of Building and Housing and the Ministry of Social Development.”
These developments are badly needed. Since the earthquake, a severe shortage of housing and rental accommodations throughout the city have pushed up rents and severely hampered affordability. A recent analysis by the Department of Building and planning showed that rents throughout the city had risen by 6.1 per cent in the year to March, more than double the national average of three per cent. According to that same analysis, rental affordability throughout the city has deteriorated rapidly and is now much worse than the national average after having been better than the national average prior to the quake.
Worse, the department says, sub-market analysis shows that the deterioration in affordability is disproportionately affecting the lower quartile of the market, meaning that the cost of housing is rising for those who can least afford to pay.
Brownlee acknowledges these problems, but says the recent initiatives brought about by the government will help.
“Today there are over 800 rental properties available in Canterbury, with over 700 available in Christchurch,” he says. “However I recognise that finding suitable accommodation is becoming harder for some people and we’re working very hard to alleviate the pressure.”
“As the recovery has gathered momentum and more homes have been repaired the rental market has tightened, but I’m confident this new wave of housing supply will alleviate those pressures,” he adds.
Last week, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority hosted a meeting of 40 representatives of social housing agencies who aim to work on short and long-term solutions to increase rental supply throughout the city.