Auckland: Better housing for workers needed

Daphne Lawless, Auckland Fightback member.

Preliminary feedback has just closed on the Auckland Council’s Draft Unitary Plan, a document which will have major impact on how working people in the Super City live, work and play.

When the single Auckland Council replaced Auckland’s four cities, three districts and regional council in 2010, the law stated that a new Unitary Plan be drawn up to replace all the local planning documents – covering issues such as transport, housing, and infrastructure.

There has been big debate in the Auckland media on the issue – mostly on the question of “intensification” of housing.

Mayor Len Brown’s Labour-backed administration is supporting a halt to Auckland’s suburban sprawl along the motorways north and south. Instead, many more people will live in apartments, terraced houses, and other small dwellings.

Right-wing politicians and “residents’ associations” from the leafy suburbs such as St Heliers and Milford are up in arms about these proposals. They’ve been yelling about the danger of “slums”, about how higher-density living is “not the Kiwi way”, and refusing to let “their suburbs” change.

To some degree, these are the same people who have always run Auckland. The conservative leaders in Auckland supported sprawl along the new motorway systems starting in the 1950s.

Existing working class and Pasifika communities in the inner suburbs of the city – Ponsonby, Newton and Freemans Bay – had their homes destroyed for the new motorways. They were encouraged into houses in suburbs far from the city, such as Mangere and Otara.

Auckland thus developed a form of socio-economic apartheid. The old central villas in which working people had lived for decades were taken over and done up by the upwordly mobile class.

Right-wing politicians want Auckland to expand “outwards, not upwards” – new suburbs on greenfield sites. These will be dependent on cars, clogging Auckland’s roads even further. They will also mean that working people will continue to be housed far away from the leafy suburbs – keeping their beloved property prices high.

The right-wing argument that sprawl makes housing affordable is only true if we all need 4-bedroom stand-alone houses on big sections. But increasing numbers of working people have small families or no children, and don’t need that kind of space.

Well-designed apartments and terraced houses in the central suburbs of Auckland could not only bring housing prices down significantly. By hooking into existing public transport – as well as the proposed City Rail Link – they could remove the need to own one or more cars, an expense which makes a big dent in workers’ budgets.

However, Len Brown’s plans are far from perfect. If workers’s needs aren’t taken seriously, these new apartments might be put out of workers’ reach and bought up by the same kind of middle-class professionals who now dominate Ponsonby and Grey Lynn.

John Minto’s campaign for Mayor of Auckland on behalf of the MANA movement should take this up. We shouldn’t listen to the voices who support “traditional” suburban sprawl, dependent on cars. But we have to demand that perhaps 30% of the new high-density housing should be made available for rent or sale to working families at affordable prices.

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