How ‘eco-friendly’ is our new house?

Some students from Te Wānanga o Aotearoa are interviewing me tomorrow about whether we built an eco-house. I thought it might be useful to list the ways I think it is and isn’t ‘eco-friendly’.

11196325_10153250715811273_8827879323077468267_nHouse Site:

  • We chose a building site next to Penu Pa, Tarsh’s marae we lived at for 14 months while the house was being built. That was partly determined by cultural imperatives – we were keen to be close to the pa and able to help out by keeping a close eye on it, opening up when necessary and helping out, fielding enquiries if people dropped in, etc.
  • It also had some financial benefits: we were able to utilise the marae septic system that already had a resource consent – we just need to pay for it to be cleaned every two years instead of every three; we can also utilise the free public internet (WaiWhai) that the pa offers; the new house proximity to power lines was also a lot cheaper than our preferred site up the hill which was going to cost $50,000 just to run an electricity cable to.
  • We are about 10km south of Ruatoria, so there is some transport impacts to consider – school, health clinic and shops use more energy to get to than if we had a house closer or in the township. But you can’t choose where your marae is! Some families further out of town than us occasionally ride their horses to town, so I guess that’s an eco-friendly option we can pursue regardless of how soon we’re all driving electric vehicles.

Energy:

  • We designed the house with a lot of large windows and positioned it facing north so it is a sun trap. As I sit writing this at 8am two days out from the Winter equinox, there is a heavy frost outside but I am bathed in sunlight and getting quite hot. The house is designed as two boxes – one side for sleeping/washing and the other for eating/living/working – joined by a small foyer.
  • We installed a wood burning stove in both sides, one is an oven with wetback to heat the water, the other a small heater for the sleeping side. Both fireplaces do a great job of warming the inside areas – if we load them up before bed, even on frosty nights (we live at the bottom of a valley) they keep the house warm overnight. We’re finding the wetback stove is over-efficient, so if the fire has been going full bore for more than 4-5 hours it heats the water too much and the hot water gets dumped outside so cold water can cool the cylinder. That’s a waste of precious water, so we’re looking at installing an additional cylinder to store the hot water or may just run the hose into the bath so it gets dumped there instead.
  • We looked at solar options but our building budget didn’t stretch far enough so that’s something we can save for as it is quite easy to install solar retrospectively. It was going to cost close to an extra $50,000 for a stand-alone off-grid system or $20,000 for a decent grid-connected system.
  • We use the wood oven for nearly all our cooking – we have a BBQ outside that is used more in summertime and we have a few electric appliances like a slow cooker and rice cooker. We have a gas hob beside the wood stove but hardly ever use it, maybe in summer when we don’t have the fire going as long it will be used more. Ideally we’ll replace that gas hob with an electric option to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
  • We used LED lights throughout the house – they are heaps more energy efficient, though a bit more expensive to start with. I did the lighting design which has turned out to be probably at least a third more lighting than we really needed as the LEDs I chose are brighter than I realised. We have dimmers on abut half of them so that saves power consumption as well as creating nicer lighting options.
  • We have polystyrene underfloor insulation and pink bats in the walls and ceiling. With more time and money we would’ve used wool or hemp insulation products.
  • The house is double-glazed aluminium windows and doors throughout. Aluminium isn’t very eco-friendly of course, but it is the most air-tight house we’ve ever lived in. Because of the double-glazing we just use custom-made vinyl roller blinds on most of the windows and doors as we have no need for thermal drapes. Vinyl isn’t very eco-friendly either.

Materials:

  •  The foundations are non-eco-friendly H4 treated pine and the external ‘ShadowClad‘ ply and flooring is H3 treated pine. Some nasty glue is used to seal the ply to the floor, wall and ceiling framing – along with a million nails. Ply uses a lot of nasty glues to seal the sheets of wood cut from the logs but we used untreated EcoPly for interior linings.
  • We were planning to use an Osmo eco-friendly natural oil product on the outside but had to send the 30 litres back after using over a litre for one coat on one of 80 sheets it was just too expensive. I used a water-based stain from Resene in the end.
  • The interior was finished with Aquatec Wood Coat by Cotec – a water-based polyurethane.
  • Our flooring is half synthetic carpet and half vinyl strips. In retrospect I wish we’d gone with the wool carpet but got talked out of it by the flooring guy. There wasn’t a huge difference in cost, it was more an aesthetic decision about how much it would fade in direct sunlight and a durability decision about how quickly it would wear out.
  • The roof is ColourSteel by New Zealand Steel, not the most eco-friendly option compared to something like a soil and grass living roof. The stormwater downpipes are recyclable PVC by Marley and feed two 30,000 PVC water tanks by Promax – who don’t seem to provide much sustainability information about their products.
  • The kitchen uses natural wood (macrocarpa) bench tops and plywood for the joinery facings with the standard chipboard for the internal linings. We reduced the need for hardware on kitchen joinery by cutting hand holes in the ply, but used standard aluminium hardware on all the internal doors.
  • The bathroom units are all fairly standard off the shelf products.
  • Decking timber is standard pine decking. We could have gone with Kwila decking but even though some of it has FSC accreditation, the products imported to NZ have had terrible environmental impacts.

I think in retrospect if we’d planned the build better by starting much earlier (like a year before we moved rather than after we moved into caravans so the pressure was on), then we would have made better environmental choices and/or saved more money to afford the eco-options or a longer build.

Anything else?

Four of my ‘co-housing’ experiences

A Twitter contact, recently asked the awesome Enspiral network about experiences of co-housing – in particular experiences and issues related to things like: interest-based intentional community; shared infrastructure; social interaction; group design/build/own… I chipped in and foolishly promised to write a blog post about my experiences. So, here it is…

There are four specific experiences that my wife Tarsh and I have had in different versions of what might be considered ‘co-housing’:

  1. a faith-based community in Wellington (1994-1998)
  2. attempts at intentional community in Gisborne (2004-2006)
  3. sharing infrastructure/resources in Gisborne (2007-2014)
  4. living on the marae and building on multiply-owned Maori land at Makarika near Ruatoria (2015-)

I’ll give a brief overview of my upbringing and summarise the contexts and experiences, and at the end share some lessons I think we’ve learned along the way.


I had a fairly typical upbringing in middle-class New Zealand, raised in a two parent, two child family in Tauranga, my parents both came from large working-class Pakeha families and both had been quite independent from an early age. My father considers himself an egalitarian and has a lot of sympathy for Marx and communitarian ideas. My mother worries a lot about money and security is important to her – so she would have been very pleased they were able to build the first house they owned as 20-somethings in the late 1960s for about 1,200 pounds. She was a high school teacher with a commerce degree and he was a postie who dropped out of school at 14 to work in an engineering workshop making glasses. Their co-housing experience included building a self-contained flat in the downstairs of their new house to rent out – and potentially for elderly relatives to eventually utilise, that provided extra income and extra security. And like most Kiwi kids before the internet and console games, we did heaps with the other children and families in the neighbourhood – sharing meals, childcare and gardening tools.

In the early 1980s when I had just turned 10, Mum and Dad bought a small farm with 20 acres on the edge of the city. They joined the NZ Small Farmers Association (Dad eventually becoming President for a while) and were good gardeners and tried their hand at husbandry of various animals. It was 1984-5 and interest rates shot to 24%, so they really struggled to keep the dream alive, but they managed to keep the farm as Dad had a job in the public service (Dept of Social Welfare) and Mum worked in an educational toy shop they owned with another couple. Eventually the city expanded and the farm was acquired by the local authorities in 2001 who wanted to use the flats for stormwater run off from all the new subdivisions being built on what were previously similar small farms and orchards.


1: Urban Vision, Wellington (1994-1998)

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Our wedding reception in 1998 – the old orphanage I was living in is just through the trees – a great meal was provided by our generous UV friends who gave up their day (and the night before) to help us out. All up we spent about $1,000 on the wedding and reception for 200+ guests. So cheap, in more ways than one!

 

After leaving school, I moved to Wellington to study design and got involved with an organisation called Youth For Christ Wellington. YFC had its origins in the conservative North American evangelical movement but the Wellington branch had become quite progressive. In addition to the youth clubs YFC had always run with volunteers, we started more focused conscientisation groups with young people and would regularly organise protests, pickets and support civil disobedience aimed at challenging the abuse of political power, oppression, injustice and violence against the poor and marginalised – whether it was Council housing tenants, young offenders, East Timorese villagers or Iraqi families. We had a number of flats of young people as well as one home for teenage girls that were unable to live with their family because it was too dangerous for the girl or because the girl had burnt her bridges (sometimes the home) with family.

Out of this came an idea to move away from YFC and form an intentional community called ‘Urban Vision‘ to develop more intentional cooperative living arrangements grounded in common interests and a faith doctrine focused on a ‘discipleship journey’ and gospel of helping those from more privileged backgrounds give up some of the opportunities and benefits of their privilege and to create opportunities for those society had marginalised to realise their full potential.

We took over an old Presbyterian orphanage that a local church had previously housed a number of young adults in. The building was ugly, cold and rundown but we turned it into a home for teenage boys supported by a group of young adult men (aged 22-40ish). We had room for 14 of us – seven teenagers and seven ‘men’. The adults paid to live there, sometimes the boys were referred Child Youth & Family Services so they had an care and accomodation allowance that contributed to their costs, other times they were referred by Police, schools or friends and didn’t have any funds to contribute.

At the same time other co-housing experiments were being established in the wider Urban Vision community with a couple of households focused on the inner-city and homeless populations, another on refugees and migrants, another group was based in the Council housing units, another provided supported accomodation for young men with intellectual disabilities and another specifically for Maori girls run by wahine Maori.

Resources in most of these co-housing arangements were shared through a household budget and those that were able to give more did so. Some had a main couple, often with small children with teenagers, with teenagers and/or single adults living with them. Some were large buildings like an old carpet factory in Cuba Street that housed 15+ people at a time, others were small 1-2 bedroom units in Council housing estates.

The Urban Vision community gathered together weekly for a shared meal, prayer, singing and collective celebrations, though eventually after we had left the ‘teams’ focused on particular communities got too large and the big UV get togethers were less frequent as much larger venues were required and the smaller teams kept meeting daily and/or weekly.

UV has continued to evolve, about ten years ago it became an ‘order’ of the Anglican church and one of the UV founders, Justin Duckworth, is now the Bishop of Wellington.

Around 2000, Justin, his wife Jenny, their family and a couple of friends involved with UV formed another trust and purchased Ngatiawa, an old Presbyterian campsite on the Kapiti Coast. This has provided accommodation and a common life together for hundred of people, young, old, single, couples, families – as well as a retreat from the city for many of the people connected to UV homes in Wellington. A number of UV members and affiliates have trades and have helped construct and renovate a dozen or so buildings including large halls and dining spaces, cabin accommodation, family homes, a chapel and other facilities. Each year Ngatiawa community hosts the Passionfest music/arts/theology/resistance/community festival.


2: Attempts at intentional community, Gisborne (1998-2006)

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Before we bought the units

Moving to Gisborne in 1998 to care for Tarsh’s grandparents who raised her, was a bit of a shock. Coming out of the high commitment, high intensity of Urban Vision, I was both happy and sad – we enjoyed the opportunity to do whatever we wanted from scratch, but I missed the level of support and accountability that the intentional community provided.

We bought a house with help from my parents, and Tarsh’s grandparents and two of their sons lived with us off and on for a couple of years until her grandfather passed away in 2001.

Tarsh and I got involved with Te Ora Hou, a faith-based Maori youth and community development organisation that started as the Maori and Pasifika arm of YFC in the 1970s and became its own national organisation in the mid-90s.

While we were still heavily involved in a wide range of local community projects on both voluntary and paid roles, Tarsh was content to be doing our own thing. I was missing the sense of purpose and direction I enjoyed in the intentional community experience of UV and so we had a go at a co-housing experiment. In 2004 we had the opportunity to purchase four adjacent residences, initially we hoped to do it under the auspices of Te Ora Hou locally, in the end the TOH board were reluctant to invest in residential property so we purchased the four residences (two 3 bedroom houses and two three bedroom units) and immediately sold the units to another Te Ora Hou family and rented out one of the houses to another Te Ora Hou family before selling it to a third family.

Incidentally, we sold our original house after advertising it at three different prices: The lowest price was for first-home buyers, the next price ($10,000 higher), was for purchasers who already owned a home but planned to live in this one, and the top price (another $10,000 higher) was for anyone who just wanted to buy it as a rental ‘investment’. I still think this is how Housing NZ should arrange its sales when it flogs off unwanted properties – give preference to those who need it most and disincentives for speculators and investors.

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A few years after the units had been renovated into one house

So the units sold to one of the TOH families were converted into one house by knocking a hole in the downstairs wall. The three properties were able to share a common backyard, we took turns moving each others lawns with a shared lawnmower and the kids played between them. We had meals together at least once a week. Before domestic WiFi was easily accessible we even strung ethernet cables between the three properties and shared one internet account. Sometimes we’d share a washing machine and dryer between homes, regularly had each others children in our care (to varying degrees of care, my tendency to be too relaxed and distracted probably didn’t build great confidence in my childcare services) and we would often borrow a vehicle from one of the other households.

This arrangement came to end by 2007 – one of the families was highly committed to the intentional community idea, one was not sure they wanted to be there anymore and another was having internal conflicts about the whole nature of the arrangements and the inherent tensions of doing something ‘intentional’ with some neighbours and not others.


3: Sharing resources, Gisborne (2007-2014)

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So by 2008 the other two families had moved out of the neighbourhood and new families moved in. We bought the house that had been the units back off that family and shifted in, we sold the house we had been in to another young couple involved with Te Ora Hou who shared our interest in doing voluntary youth work and community activities in the neighbourhood – but without the same level of intensity we had experienced with the previous neighbours. We had another single man (an old school friend of mine who has become an uncle to our kids and our closest friend) and Tarsh’s grandmother – move into our house with us and our two children.

This arrangement worked quite well for everyone – we had childcare and a wonderful cook on tap, he got to live with and contribute to a family he loves deeply. Tarsh’s grandmother had a self-contained part of the house and company looking out for her everyday, and our kids got to experience living with their great grandmother for the last years of her life.

Over this time we continued sharing meals, backyards, lawnmowers, washing machines, surfboards, vehicles, etc. and a community garden over the back fence – but without any explicit commitment to each other beyond neighbourly sharing and caring.

Our single friend living with spent a lot of his own money helping renovate parts of the house and outside areas, he had a real investment in the family and the property – but eventually we all agreed that the season was coming to an end and he won a post-doctoral scholarship to Cambridge University so left us for the UK. After he left Tarsh’s grandmother got too frail with dementia and Tarsh made the difficult decision to let her go first to the home of an aunty and then into a nursing home just before she passed away. We had another couple of relations live with us after our friend moved out and then a year or two of just us and the kids before we sold up at the end of 2014.


4: Living at the marae and building on multiply-owned Maori land, Makarika/Ruatoria (2015-)

In March 1997 when Tarsh turned 24, as her new boyfriend (as of that day) I gave her an antique builders level. We were living in Wellington, part of the newly formed Urban Vision community, and she had told me her dream was to return to the East Coast one day and build on whānau whenua (traditional family land).

Like many other Ngati Porou, Tarsh’s mum and most of her siblings, moved from the Coast to big cities for education and employment opportunities in the 1960s and 70s. Tarsh was raised by her grandparents but in her last year of high school went to live with her mother in Christchurch – which felt a long way from the East Coast – both geographically and culturally.

We had our first child, Miria, in 2002, and from an early age decided we wanted our children to have experience living in the heart of Ngati Porou on the Coast.

Gisborne is great, but it’s still very urban and Pakeha dominated. Tarsh says “We want our kids to live in a community where Ngati Poroutanga is the culture, immersed everyday in the reo, tikanga and landmarks of my tipuna. Those taonga are the birth-right of every Ngati Porou child and you can’t get them anywhere except within your own turangawaewae.”
For the last ten years we have been actively involved with Penu (Rongo-i-te-Kai) Pa, at Makarika just south of Ruatoria. I have been the marae Treasurer since 2005 and Tarsh has been stepping up to help at tangi, wananga and other activities that happen around the pa.

While we talked about planning to ‘move home’ for Miria to attend high school, it wasn’t until that time was just about upon us that the work really started.

We looked at a range of options – renting or buying a house in Ruatorea, relocating an existing building, starting with a shed, using a kitset and even building from local and recycled materials.

Penu Pa sits on the original Totaranui block that runs from Makarika to Hiruharama. Totaranui A1D2B2B is 130 hectares between State Highway 35 and the summit of Tutae-a-Whata and Tarsh’s grandmother owned ten percent of the shares in the block through her grandmother who was the original owner. The block is administered by Te Tumu Paeroa, the Maori Trustee, and leased by Tarsh’s cousin who farms most of it.

The first step was to seek support from the other 300 landowners. Te Tumu Paeroa and the Maori Land Court only have addresses for about 150 of the listed owners, so a letter from us went out to these owners asking for permission to use a small section of the block to put a house on. The overwhelming response was full support for the request.

There were a number of shareholders very happy to hear that a whanau wanted to live on the land. We don’t know most of them, but of course Tarsh is related to all of them. Many of the older ones lived here in their younger years and would like to live here again but their circumstances make that difficult.

With support from Te Tumu Paeroa, the shareholders and current leasee, we then had to find a bank willing to lend on Maori land. A government programme called Kainga Whenua is designed to help Maori build on multiply-owned land – the interest rates and deposit required are the same as any other bank but Housing New Zealand underwrites the loan for Kiwibank, so there is less risk for the lender.

Building

Our whare designed by Shane Kingsbeer & Greg Saunders

The Kainga Whenua scheme is far from perfect and very frustrating at times. Because the bank can’t use the land as collateral they will only lend what the building is worth. Registered valuations ($800 each) must be done at each step of the build to allow the next amount of funds to be drawn down to pay for the builder, materials and sub-contractors. This adds significant costs and delays to the building process.

This probably would have had less impact if we had started the build before moving! We have been living in caravans at Penu Pa all this year waiting for the house to be built.

In many ways it’s been the perfect transition from the city to the Coast. Living in caravans at the pa has its challenges, but it’s also been like one long camping holiday for the kids and we been able to pay rent to the pa instead of someone else.

I work for clients around the country from our caravan utilising the free Nati Waiwhai internet provided to the pa by Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou.

We helped establish Hikurangi Takiwa Trust, a hapu (tribal) collective for the six pa in the local area, and both have volunteered in a range of roles for the trust. There are two existing papakainga of 4-6 houses each in the hapu and a third is currently in the early stages of development. Like us they are built on multiply-owned Maori land but the buildings all belong to a trust or marae, whereas in our situation we own the building and just lease the land it sits on.

The new house is almost completed and we have built it just over the fence from the marae. This has allowed us to save some significant costs as we got marae committee and Council consent to utilise the marae septic tanks system, electricity is also close already as is vehicle access – and family visitors can use the marae communal sleeping, eating and bathroom facilities and still be close to us.

This marae has always had someone living at it, there is Nanny Lucky who still lives here she spends her days doing gardening and sleeps in the dining hall or with her son in the cottage next door. Before her we had Papa, he drank too much and caused a few issues but was always happy to see any visitors and kept the place warm for everyone else. Back in the 70s another old man lived here – that was before the new dining hall was built so he cooked his meals in the meeting house, spelt in there and had it set up like a lounge with a TV.

I think there is heaps of potential for marae to provide housing for older people who are still independent but who need somewhere to feel at home and appreciate both the history and the communal living opportunities that marae provide.

We’re living the dream and have found it’s not as hard as we thought, wish we’d done it ages ago.

While packing up our house in Gisborne last year I found the builders level I gave Tarsh when we first got together 18 years ago, we plan to display it in our new house built on whanau whenua before her next birthday.

 


Conclusion: Some lessons learned

  • Intentionality should be allowed to grow organically. As the great Jean Vanier has suggested, those who go looking for community probably won’t find it. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try – it’s just saying that those who earnestly attempt to build community sometimes try too hard and instead we should focus on nurturing caring relationships wherever we are and let the communal live emerge naturally where it will.
  • Issues around money tend to bring out the worst in people. We often think we’re entitled to more than we are, or we think someone else is taking too much, or we leave arrangements too ill-defined for fear of tackling the money matters, we conveniently ‘forget’ the details of some agreements, etc.
  • We can always share more. My parents generation were sold the Kiwi Dream – a couple, 2.4 kids, a mortgage and one or two incomes. That ‘dream’ of consumerism is a nightmare in a finite world and no good for mental health and community. Whether it is starting with the bare basics like sharing a lawnmower, creating a community garden, adding a spare room  or taking it all the way to the ‘common purse’ between a group of families and singles – there is always more to share.
  • We can always make space for others. We have a number of single friends now in their 40s who have chosen not to relentlessly pursue the societal expectations of couplehood and who challenge the dominant paradigm of what it means to be a family. Some of them enjoy living by themselves but appreciate the opportunity to participate in family life during significant times of the year like birthdays and Christmas; others can’t stand to be by themselves so have found ways to bring others into their home and/or helped create home with other single people and families. These are the people who often provide care and support for both the young and old who are too often overlooked by those of us with tight-knit nuclear families.
  • Indigenous and cooperative models are better for us and the environment. We like the idea of living on multiply-owned land – it makes decisions, plans and actions a lot harder and often adds more financial costs but can in the long run mean costs are saved to the household, community and environment. Ultimately it means we have to take others views into account and the wider implications for the community and the environment get factored in more than if we control the resources and most of the decision-making process.

 

Note: #4 section is a rewrite of an article we wrote for a recent edition of Nati Link magazine about our experience moving to the marae and building a new house on the land. 

Chamber of Commerce Q+A

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The Gisborne Chamber of Commerce asked candidates five questions, these are my responses…

– – –

I have enjoyed first term on Council, part of that was on the Chamber Executive and I’d like to see those links strengthened a little more as I think Brian Wilson and myself acted as a useful conduit between the Council and Chamber on a number of issues.

I think I’ve been able to make intelligent, sensible and considered contributions to Council and I’ve helped raise the quality of discussion, debate and decision-making.

I’ve had a focus on increasing public involvement in planning and decisions and been a strong advocate for the city and the district as a whole.

I have listened to residents and ratepayers (even after being elected!), worked well with others (who don’t always share the same values and views) and helped make good decisions in the best interest of the region as a whole.

– – – 

1. What do you see as the GDC’s role in contributing to economic development and growth in this region?

Council has a key role in a number of areas contributing to economic development:

  1. Providing good quality infrastructure, predictable regulation & consistent planning
  2. Collecting and disseminating information that helps the community make informed decisions on the direction for the district
  3. Advocating for the district at central government – ensuring our big issues are nationally significant issues.
  4. Facilitating relationships between stakeholders to realise opportunities and achieve sustainable solutions in the best interest of the district where there are competing priorities.

Some of functions within these areas, particulatly information gathering and sharing, advocacy and relationship brokerage could be devolved to an Economic Development Agency run separate to Council. But the Mayor and Council have a critical leadership role in advocating on behalf of the region – especially on things like roading, new costs being imposed by central government legislation, etc. And political leadership can help broker mutually beneficial relationships with industry, iwi, land owners, research institutions, entrepreneurs, etc.

Council can also have procurement and banking policies that benefit the local community in different ways.

– – –

2. What is your view of the core role of council? Do you consider there are any current council activities that do not fit this role?

Under new legislation the purpose of local government is now to provide quality infrastructure, regulation & essential services. Opposition parties have pledged to revert the purpose back to promoting sustainable development and local cultural, environmental, social and economic wellbeing.

I’m not completely wedded to Council providing social housing. I have argued it could be sold to a Charitable Trust, housing cooperative or something like ECT but wouldn’t want to see them go to private ownership. I’m also open to Council not owning any or all of its commercial assets (WOF station, holiday park, farms) if there are compelling financial reasons to divest from these enterprises. We need an urgent review of Council asset ownership to identify options and the benefits of retaining or releasing these enterprises.

Tauwhareparae Farms are being well run but I’m not convinced we need to retain them. They were acquired to supplement port income and will always provide low value compared to capital committed, as the trees appreciate so will the capital value. There is no legal risk in selling them and my preference would be as Margaret Thorpe suggests to land-bank them via OTS as they are subject to Treaty claims. This will ensure we get a premium price, they are retained in local ownership and we demonstrate goodwill to the traditional owners.

– – –

3. Businesses have to live within their means, or face the consequences. What is your view with regard to GDC achieving the same discipline around keeping rates increases in check?

Significant savings have been made by previous and current CEO to trim as much as possible. More ‘savings’ could be found but that depends on what we want to give up and what quality of life we can tolerate.

I campaigned on rates rises at or below inflation and we have achieved that. The ‘razor gang’ didn’t make any significant savings. I also campaigned on getting more predictable rates system with smaller variations year on year and we are making good progress on this through the participatory rates review process.

Council league tables suggest we are now one of the most financially sustainable and we rank 26 out of 73 councils for cost of rates.

Councillors are financially conservative and understand the limits of affordability for residents, but the WMT suggests this is not the case. That massive blowout and the need to address some basic first suggest some of the fancy projects need to be reviewed while we attend to the basics first.

If the community has things they think we should stop doing or not start they have the opportunity every year and we listen to that feedback.

– – –

4. What is your position with respect to the re-opening of the Gisborne to Napier rail line?

The railway line a billion dollar public asset that is lying idle while Gisborne and Wairoa businesses scream out for it to make our products more competitive. Some people say logs will never go South on it but there are massive forests between Napier and Gisborne that will provide the anchor business for the line so that containerised seasonal produce and timber coming out and fertiliser going to Gisborne can be transported by rail instead of trucks. Coastal shipping is unlikely to ever be viable if the rail is operating.

More trucks on the road means more cost in maintenance, more congestion and more danger for other motorists – it also means more cost for local businesses and more competition from other places that have lower freight costs.

With the support of 10,000 signatures and $20,000 given by local businesses and residents, we commissioned a study that demonstrated the lack of rigor in the government’s position and the potential for a realistic business case if roads and rail were considered on a level playing field by central government.

A different government next year will reinstate the line if the local business consortium is unable to raise the funds required. Some candidates say they don’t don’t support ratepayers funding the line operation – that has never been a realistic option – but Council could be a stronger advocate for the line.

– – –

5. If you were elected to the council, what activities or actions would you take to ensure Gisborne becomes an even better place to work, live and play?

I will keep doing what I have been:

–  all of the above, plus…

–  working with the IT sector to establish local computer hubs for young people and families with few opportunities to access IT, career pathways via the Techxpo and partnership with major NZ telcos

– advocating for more central government support for our district (transport, rail, imposed costs, renewable energy, forestry carbon credits, aquaculture, etc.) and working with iwi and other stakeholders on these issues

– leading a gang transformation project focused on employment and working with employers and support services

– review commercial assets

– keep rates at or below inflation

– continue support for better commuter cycling and walking infrastructure

– more emphasis on local housing issues – affordable, healthy housing for everyone, not provided by Council but Council facilitating government, community and private sectors working together

– continue emphasising the importance of opportunities for public input on issues like forestry harvest rules, petroleum exploration applications, legislative submissions, etc.

– continue work on Māori land issues – Council working with landowners to look at how to make the land more productive and/or revert to indigenous forest

–  continue supporting illegal dumping prevention and removal, and more ambitious waste minimisation targets.

– continue bringing diverse parts of the community together to address complex issues

– continue voluntary involvement in a wide range of community groups and local issues.

Auckland-centric national policy won’t help here

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Government announcements to make more land available to reduce house prices may backfire in Gisborne according to a District Councillor.

Manu Caddie said there are more than 40 empty state houses in Kaiti alone, and he knows of situations in his neighbourhood where 12 people are living in a one bedroom flat. “This is a bizarre situation when there are half a dozen empty three and four bedroom state houses in the same street that are being vandalised since the tenants were moved out by Housing New Zealand.”

“This is an increasingly common situation since the government reduced eligibility for public housing. We don’t have a housing shortage in Gisborne, we have a logic shortage. One size fits all policies are the problem with central government, our situation is the opposite of Auckland but policy is being designed for the Auckland situation and applied here.”

“Housing materials and construction are a much higher proportion of costs in the Gisborne District, we don’t have a land shortage issue like Auckland. Making it easier to expand the city boundaries will not make it easier for low income families on the East Coast to afford safe and healthy housing” said Mr Caddie. “If the government was serious about finding policy to make housing affordable they would introduce a capital gains tax or other mechanisms to put a damper on the rampant speculation that ramps up property prices.”

Mr Caddie is sceptical about introducing income related rents for private rentals. “That would see a massive transfer of taxes to landlords at the same time as the government is also planning to privatise a large proportion of the public housing stock by transferring state houses to ‘social housing providers’.

Mr Caddie recently wrote on behalf of the Tairāwhiti Housing Advisory Group to the Minister of Social Development requesting a review of the Accommodation Supplement that is supposed to help tenants with rents relative to the average housing costs in their region. Gisborne residents are on a lower rate of subsidy than those who live in regions where the average rental price is lower. Paula Bennett said in a letter that the Ministry would not be reviewing Accommodation Supplement in Gisborne because it would be inappropriate to focus on only one region. The Tairāwhiti Housing Advisory Group agreed last week to ask Anne Tolley and Parekura Horomia to take up this issue on behalf of the region they represent.

Kainga Whenua changes ‘best achievement’ of current Government

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Making it easier for whanau to build on multiply-owned Māori is probably the best achievement of the current government to date says Gisborne District Councillor Manu Caddie.

Changes in eligibility criteria and an increase in the amount Kiwibank will loan under the Kainga Whenua scheme were announced yesterday by Māori Party co-leader and Associate Minister of Housing Tariana Turia.

“If anything can make a difference to unlocking the potential of Māori land on the East Coast then this will” said Mr Caddie.

Mr Caddie said the changes that will allow non-resident shareholders to be guarantors for a loan, lifting the restriction from only first home buyers and raising the income threshold will make it easier for people earning more money, who can afford to service a mortgage, to look at returning to their traditional lands.

Mr Caddie said rates arrears on Māori land in the northern part of Gisborne District were spiraling out of control and this kind of policy would make it much easier for families to return to the land and make it even more productive than it had been 100 years ago.

“With the opportunities technology offers to work anywhere, the idea of living on tribal lands and trading globally is going to be very appealing to more families.”

Mr Caddie has been critical of the Kainga Whenua scheme in the past because the restrictive criteria had severely limited its uptake. “These are the changes we have been calling for and it is great to see both the Maori Party and National Party have been listening.”

Mr Caddie said a presentation on the new criteria would be on the agenda of the Tairawhiti Housing Advisory Group meeting at Council on 24th October.

The fund will now be open to Maori Land Trusts, whanau or hapu groups who wish to build on Maori land and to all individual borrowers assessed as able to service a mortgage, not just first home buyers.

The income cap for borrowers has been raised from $85,000 to $120,000 for one borrower and up to $160,000 for two or more borrowers.

Loans can also now be used for home improvements, repairs and maintenance.

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Council should ‘step up’ in housing issue

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THE district has few, if any, social housing providers and this is a major issue Gisborne District Council needs to address, says councillor Manu Caddie.
Mr Caddie said he struggled with the “central thesis” of the Role of Council in Housing Issues report presented to the
council this week, which said the provision of housing had not normally been seen as a local authority function.
“Three councils alone have more than 6500 social housing units, so there are probably more than 20,000 council-managed properties around the country and many councils have been providing social housing since the 1930s.”
Mr Caddie said “far from taking full responsibility for housing issues”, Government was clearly retreating from the sector and that left a gap for local authorities to fill . . . “perhaps in a review of current social housing provision but definitely in
understanding the housing needs and priorities of the district.
“No central government agency is now going to do that.”
Mr Caddie said Government programmes like the Kainga Whenua programme, designed to help those wanting to build on multiply-owned Maori land, had failed.
“Only four loans have been granted in two years, which has taken millions away from initiatives like the rural housing programme, that has provided assistance for many properties in the Gisborne district to have minor repairs to make them healthier and safer.
“Gisborne has few, if any, social housing providers. This is a major issue the council needs to help address.
“That doesn’t mean the council has to provide social housing but it could mean a review of our pensioner housing to see if it is the best use for the asset.
“We really need to understand the local issues. A council staff member has recently discovered that the WINZ accommodation
supplement for Gisborne is lower than in Rotorua, where the average rent is lower.
“In the absence of any other organisation doing this kind of analysis, the council must step up or support a regional community housing organisation to develop.”
Senior economic development officer Phil Wauchop, in the report for the community development committee, said a clear understanding of central government, local government and other key stakeholders’ roles was needed.
Mr Wauchop said responsibilities and priorities, plus funding mechanisms, was “the first step required” to ensure an effective
management of housing issues.
“The role of local government in housing issues have varied over time and often reflected the role and policy implications adopted
by the central government of the day.
“Traditionally, the local government stance is that core social assistance spending is a taxpayer responsibility, not the ratepayer’s.
“This stance has been based on the view that the role of income redistribution belongs to the entity that has access to the income tax base.”
THE GISBORNE HERALD | 13 April 2012