Innovating housing futures: case studies from the Waikato and Nelson

The Waikato. Photo: James Thomas.

There have been several innovative responses to housing unaffordability in both the Waikato and Nelson. Researchers in the Affordable Housing for Generations (AHfG) research programme in the Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities National Science Challenge (BBHTC), Bev James, Gauri Nandedkar, and Simon Opit have been exploring the potential of local innovation through land and financial investment strategies.

Bev explains that in the Waikato region, they encountered two linked innovative responses, “These were strategic networking, as exemplified by the Waikato Housing Initiative (WHI), and the establishment of a community land trust, as exemplified by the Waikato Community Lands Trust (WCLT).”

The WHI is a multi-agency and cross-sectoral group with goals to improve the delivery of affordable housing that responds to local housing need. The WCLT is a charitable trust aiming to acquire land on which partners will build affordable housing.

“These responses have gradually developed over the past decade, in the context of a deepening awareness of critical regional housing issues, including lack of housing supply, declining affordability of homes to rent or buy, a growing intermediate housing market, an ageing housing stock and poor dwelling conditions, as well as rising homelessness,” says Bev.

Several ‘success factors’ were identified to support the achievement of affordable housing innovation. “There is a strong network of philanthropic organisations and community housing providers (CHPs) in the region. Many CHPs have in-depth housing knowledge and resources built up over decades.”

“The WHI network, with its coordinated regional approach and an agreed strategic direction, brings together information, resources, and skills to support the creation of affordable housing.

“Several councils in the region have developed their own housing strategies to guide future actions, informed by the work of the WHI,” says Bev.

In Nelson, Simon Opit and Bev James describe the response of the Nelson City Council to housing affordability.

While almost all regions in the country experience housing affordability, Nelson has consistently been identified as one of New Zealand’s least affordable regions. In the face of growing housing pressures, Nelson City Council has made solving housing unaffordability one of their top priorities. An important component of the Council’s strategy has been the creation of a Housing Reserve Fund (HRF), a dedicated fund to support the delivery of social and affordable housing within the region.

The research follows the development of the HRF up to its Phase One deployment, with the release of almost $2 million of grant funding for affordable housing development. The pathway from creation to Phase One is covered with a focus on the HRF’s purpose and key characteristics, how the Council navigated various challenges in creating the fund, stakeholders’ expectations, and how various stakeholders have engaged with the fund.

Key challenges impacting on the achievement of affordable housing were identified across both case studies. Those included legislative, policy, and funding frameworks; the local markets in which affordable housing programmes operate; the complexities of councils co-operating to create affordable housing; enabling district planning tools to support the development of affordable housing; establishing and maintaining local political and organisational leadership as well as community support for social and affordable housing proposals; planning the social infrastructure and the neighbourhood and built environments alongside affordable dwellings; and last, but not least, establishing an on-going funding stream to sustain affordable housing initiatives and retaining housing affordability in the long-term.

Both case studies suggest that certain conditions are important for creating successful affordable housing innovation. These are concerned with the establishment of an agreed strategic approach across agencies and sectors, and commitment to that approach by local leadership, the use of evidence-based decision-making, putting in place appropriate funding mechanisms to ensure the on-going sustainability of affordable housing initiatives, and effective communication to the public and stakeholders about the goals and actions needed to create affordable housing.

Read the research

James, B. & Nandedkar, G. (2022). Innovating Housing Futures: Waikato Case Study. Report for Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities, Affordable Housing for Generations – Component E. December 2022, 30pgs. Wellington: BBHTC.
Opit, S. & James, B. (2022). Innovating housing futures: Case study of the Nelson Housing Reserve Fund. Report for Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities, Affordable Housing for Generations – Component E. August 2022, 42pgs. Wellington: BBHTC.
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Date posted: 17 January 2023