Ōtaki is experiencing housing development at a rate not seen since the establishment of the town nearly 200 years ago.
Driven by demand that’s outstripping available housing stock, it’s raising fears of uncontrolled and haphazard growth that will change the character of the town – and put pressure on services and infrastructure. With skyrocketing prices, how will young people be able to afford a house and stay in the town in which they grew up?
Ōtaki Today put these questions to Cr Rob McCann, who holds the housing portfolio, and Ōtaki Ward Councillor James Cootes.
Rob notes that an extra 30,000 people are expected in Kāpiti within the next 20 years, requiring a lot of planning. That’s being done through, among other things, the Kāpiti Coast District Council’s Growth Strategy, which provides a framework for identifying the location, timing, sequencing and density of growth across the district.
He says there’s no quick fix to the housing crisis in Ōtaki – or in New Zealand – but the council can make a difference.
“What our housing programme will attempt to do, is work to support developers to provide the kinds of housing we need more of,” he says. “The Growth Strategy will ensure we’re building in the right places, with the right infrastructure, and in the best possible manner creating walkable catchments and green areas, while the District Plan will ensure we’re building safely and efficiently.”
In the past, the council has been just a regulator, but Rob says now it’s encouraging development, with an emphasis on promoting the kinds of housing the community needs.
“That means we’re updating the District Plan to ensure there is sufficient development capacity,” he says. “One of the ways this will be achieved is to increase the amount of land we can use to build houses by rezoning, while another lever is to enable and encourage developers to increase the number of people living in certain areas.”
This might require incentivising higher-density development that might could mean building up, while also enabling more in-fill housing on existing properties. With this in mind, the council is working towards a District Plan change that will happen by August 2022, with consultation beginning in March.
“We’re also exploring the ways we can increase social and affordable housing by partnering with iwi and community housing providers. Kāpiti has a very low number of social housing [units], and in part this is because successive governments haven’t recognised the need exists. To rectify this we have commissioned a ‘housing and needs assessment’ that will provide robust evidence and encourage the Government to invest in our region.”
The council has also increased the strategic purchasing fund by $1 million a year so it can secure land suitable for housing. The land on Rangiuru Road (July Ōtaki Today) was the first bought by the council to increase the housing supply.
“I hope this land is developed in a manner that demonstrates the ability to increase density without sacrificing quality. In reality that means smaller and more affordable homes utilising space efficiently.
“As to whether these will be flats or homes, no specific decisions have been made, but working with the other land purchasers, we have the opportunity to encourage an exciting development that provides a mixture of different housing models.
“As part of our housing plan, we have been visiting housing developments in the wider region to see what works and what is possible in our area. We’ve also been developing and nurturing relationships with social housing providers, government agencies and property developers.”
The council has also been participating in the Wellington Regional Growth Framework, which is a long-term vision of how the whole region will grow. That work means planning for 200,000 people. A total of 43 percent of the housing growth is expected in the western corridor (Tawa to Levin) of which Ōtaki is part.
The Government’s National Policy Statement on Urban Development has designated Kāpiti as a Tier 1 local authority. That locks Kāpiti into some significant planning and provides extra direction to the council, such as the need for increased density and building heights specifically around transport hubs, and removes some minimum car parking requirements.
“Yes that’s a lot of working parts and a great deal of change, but if we plan for this, we can ensure the growth works for the people of Ōtaki. For me, houses are for living in, and this suite of tools will be used to help improve housing access and affordability.”
Cr James Cootes says it’s too soon to say yet what development there will at the council’s recently purchased Rangiuru Road block.
“But the fact that we have purchased it for housing development should signal that we are serious about doing what we can to assist in the housing crisis,” he says.
The council has and will continue to talk to a range of stakeholders such as iwi, property developers and Kāinga Ora, he says.
“Cr McCann as portfolio holder for housing has been relentless in finding solutions.”
Asked if there would be any older person housing units – sometimes called “council flats” or “social housing” – on the Rangiuru block, he said any discussion would likely form part of a consultative process as the current units around Ōtaki are subsidised by the ratepayer.
“The reality is there is no silver bullet to fix the housing crisis, but the more quality supply we can influence, the more chance there is that our people can remain in our community.”