Neighbours hit out at Kāinga Ora over 'sneaky' new housing developments

But Kāinga Ora says it needs to fast-track housing.
But Kāinga Ora says it needs to fast-track housing. Photo credit: RNZ

By Rayssa Almeida for RNZ

Worried neighbours of planned state housing developments in Auckland and Christchurch want more say before councils give the nod.

They say Kāinga Ora is failing to be upfront and transparent with communities about its future social housing plans.

But the agency says it needs to fast-track housing and only consults on its largest projects.

In the Christchurch suburb of Halswell, residents have filed a petition against the Crown entity over a new social development in the area. They claim the project had already begun, with no prior consultation.

Mansi* was surprised when she found out through a flyer in her mailbox a new complex was already under way in her neighbourhood.

"The first thing that came to our mind was that this was a very sneaky approach. We felt panic, feeling of disappointment, being let down."

The flyer advised the construction of 13 new residential units on her street in Halswell Junction Road.

The development had already been granted resource consent by the Christchurch City Council under a non-notified basis, which meant the developer did not need to consult or notify its neighbours about its plans to build.

In the consent, the council found that the residential units that would house more than 80 people would have a minor impact on the community.

Christchurch Council head of planning and consents John Higgins said the development was relatively compliant with the district plan.

"And [it] was assessed in that context as having less than minor adverse effects. That was the reason why the applications were processed without notifying neighbours."

But Mansi disagreed.

"They need to ask the people first before assuming that [the impact in the community] is going to be minor. If you haven't asked the people and you don't live here, how do you know the impact would be minor or major?

"No one is against social housing here, we just want to have a voice in the process," she said.

The Halswell community was not the only one filing petitions against Kāinga Ora developments.

'No wiggle-room'

In Auckland, where the Crown entity has bought 76 sites in the past five years, 7794 people were still on the waitlist to be housed.

Katherine Lovelock lives on Reid Road, in the west suburb of New Lynn, where Kāinga Ora was planning to build a 47-unit complex.

She said residents were told about the development a month after the housing agency applied for resource consent.

"There is no wiggle-room once a resource consent has been lodged. I don't see the point of getting all your architectural drawings, all of everything lined up that you need to lodge a resource consent if you even were thinking about making changes [to it].

"That occurs prior [to applying for resource consent], it doesn't occur after you've lodged a resource consent."

She said if the community was involved from the start, people would feel like they were part of it.

"Which I feel is important for building communities. In this case we don't feel like we've been a part of anything."

Neighbours hit out at Kāinga Ora over 'sneaky' new housing developments
Photo credit: Via RNZ

Not far away, in the suburb of Blockhouse Bay, resident Benji Nathan took it into his own hands to tell his neighbours about Kāinga Ora's plans to build 68 new units.

He said the lack of engagement went against what Kāinga Ora stood for.

"When we are being proactive as a community trying to reach out and voice our concerns and we are not even afforded the opportunity of meetings is really disappointing.

"We are doing the hard work; we are engaging the community and the fact that we are asking them to do that, and they are not willing to, it kind of separates the current community to what the future community may be."

'Community engagement is done to inform' - Kāinga Ora

Last year, a development in the Auckland northern suburb of Millwater was stopped after a community backlash.

Kāinga Ora apologised for the lack of engagement, saying it skipped an important step.

Deputy chief executive Auckland and Northland Caroline Butterworth said community consultation depended on the size of the project.

"How and when we engage with communities depends on the scale and size of a development, whether we are masterplanning a multi-phased programme of work, or just working on a single site, and whether we will oversee the construction from the beginning or are purchasing buildings from a developer.

"We send project consent applications to the council, who then determine whether it complies with those rules, and if it doesn't, what process should be followed to determine whether the development should proceed - including community engagement.

"Kāinga Ora projects work through these processes in the same way any home builder does. It is granted resource consent where the council is satisfied that the proposed development complies with their zoning rules or works through a notified process as required by councils.

"Given the time and cost associated with going through a notified process we try to ensure our developments meet council planning rules."

Butterworth said provided that Kāinga Ora has satisfied all the local council's planning requirements, new developments did not require community approval.

"Having said that, we do generally engage with the community because we understand that people want to know what's happening in their neighbourhood."

She said after resource consent has been granted, the agency could still make changes based on community feedback.

"We typically look at things like agreeing the fence line… they have a view on landscaping, it could be that they're concerned about exterior lighting and the impact it might have in the evenings on them.

"You can do that after the resource consent is issued."

Butterworth said in areas where Kāinga Ora already had public housing, communities were typically more welcoming.

"We get most of our pushback when we move into new communities that aren't used to having public housing."

She said as Kāinga Ora moved to medium and high-density developments, some communities were challenged by that.

Regarding neighbours' backlash, Butterworth said those benefited by state housing are rarely represented in community meetings.

"The biggest challenges that we have is that at these community meetings or community events, the loudest voices are typically the ones that are against our developments."

She said the challenge was being able to answer the questions that were being asked without being shouted down in public readings.

"The greater proportion of those members of the community, the silent majority if you like, will come to us after a public meeting and say, 'Actually we don't agree with that, we're quite supportive with public housing.'

"Engaging with communities is important, but it's also important to remember that the people who will benefit from new housing in a community are very rarely represented at community meetings."

Butterworth said the state housing entity was liaising regularly with several community leaders across the country.

"We want to be good neighbours and we're in people's communities, so we are out there talking to people regularly. "

Christchurch and Auckland social developments

Through a statement, Kāinga Ora said on the Halswell Junction Road development in Christchurch, it signed a conditional sale and purchase agreement at the end of August 2022 with the developer who owned the land.

"A number of conditions, including the developer securing resource consent and building consent, needed to be met before the agreement could become unconditional.

"For commercial reasons, we could not release information on the agreement until it became unconditional, and we had purchased the land. This only happened in April 2023."

It said after the land had been purchased, the Crown entity started to inform the local community.

Regarding the development in New Lynn, Auckland, Kāinga Ora said it submitted a resource consent application at the end of March 2023.

"In the month following submission we communicated directly with neighbours to the development by letter drop and have followed up with an information session to share our plans and give residents an opportunity to ask questions."

About the development on Blockhouse Bay, Kāinga Ora said Auckland Council continues to consider the submission.

It said it had engaged several technical experts to consider the infrastructure requirements and the impacts of the development.

*Name changed to protect privacy