The country’s biggest urban regeneration project, at Tāmaki in Auckland, is now five years into its ambitious goal of changing the housing, opportunities and lives of communities in three sprawling suburbs. Tim Murphy introduces a Newsroom series on a concept unique in New Zealand.

A pioneering project to improve whole suburbs in eastern Auckland is starting to bear fruit, with swathes of new homes built, 400 jobs found for local workers and changes planned for education and health services.

The joint Government and Auckland Council project, run by the Tāmaki Regeneration Company, is five years old and has charted paths and thinking which could form part of new Government projects across Auckland to create affordable housing and fight deprivation.

So far 300 new homes have been built in a zone that spans Glen Innes, Point England and Panmure, with 600 to 700 in the pipeline and an overall target of 7500 over 20 years where about 2800 social (state) houses have stood for around half a century.

Ultimately, the regeneration will effectively double the population of the area.

But the project was always intended to be about far more than house-building or physical re-shaping of properties and buildings to accommodate the city’s growing population.

The changes to the very name of the company and its forerunner initiatives over the past decade – from Tāmaki Transformation to Tāmaki Redevelopment to Tāmaki Regeneration – indicate the evolution of thinking in how to improve the lives of the communities in the suburbs.

In its earlier phases, the removal of homes led to strident protests from poverty and social justice groups on behalf of tenants. TRC has committed to re-housing residents within the same suburbs and says its consultation and direct liaison with tenants has moved beyond the previous controversies.

Now, with the Labour-led Government aiming to accelerate house-building and, with KiwiBuild, to create mass affordable housing, the Tāmaki project offers an example of how to engage residents and avoid the pitfalls of some overseas examples of residential intensification and ‘gentrification’.

The Tāmaki project is not only the biggest urban regeneration in the country but unique in having a mandate to ‘spearhead’ change to the way social services – health, education and jobs are provided in a community.

Tāmaki is in the top 10 percent for deprivation in the country. Sixty percent of residents are Māori or Pasifika. Social statistics for health issues, welfare dependency, crime and educational under-achievement have been a challenge for policy-makers for decades.

Across its 880 hectares of land, Tāmaki Regeneration owns thousands of old state houses either beyond their use-by dates in size, warmth and usage for modern families or not effectively using the land on which they sit.

TRC has three major strands:

– physical regeneration (the housing development)

– direct services (it is landlord to 2800 tenants through its Tāmaki Housing Association)

– social service system change

It is no short-term initiative.

TRC chief executive John Holyoake says of the major, systematic changes now underway: “We will all be judged collectively in terms of how successful regeneration is in 50 years.”

For example, the planning work being undertaken now is looking at changing pre-school, primary and secondary education in the area over 30 years when the number of learners could rise from 6000 to around 14,000.

Tāmaki Regeneration chief executive John Holyoake. Photo: Bernard Hickey

A TRC unit named Tāmaki Response brings together the Auckland District Health Board, Oranga Tamariki (the Ministry for Children), the council’s Local Board, mana whenua, and the regional heads of the Ministry of Social Development and Ministry of Education to work out how public services can be better-targeted and shaped for people in the area. Among the issues addressed will be mental health services, education opportunities, and the provision of an early years hub to provide wrap-around services and support for families.

A joint effort with the Auckland Chamber of Commerce to find local jobs for local people has so far placed 400 Tāmaki workers in employment, with the success rate now up to 200 a year, or almost four people every week. TRC is also working to improve financial literacy of its people.

The most obvious visible change is in the housing redevelopments through Glen Innes, in particular.

Of the 7500 homes that will sit on the hills of Glen Innes and down across Point England and into Panmure alongside the Tāmaki River, around 2500 will remain social houses. These will be in what TRC calls ‘fine grain blocks’ rather than in the style of public housing estates.

In a form of ‘pepper potting’, the new homes will be created under a concept of blind tenure in which social and private homes are in identical styles and it is not possible to tell them apart.

The TRC project is spearheading a range of housing and financial options for residents and those who will move into the suburbs.

Instead of the old state housing and private housing divide, the company talks of a housing ‘continuum’ – from ‘state housing’ at one end, through four other categories before getting to ‘market housing’. These are ‘affordable rental’, ‘market rental’, ‘assisted ownership’, and then ‘market affordable’.

It is working with the NZ Housing Foundation on shared equity models, where the resident and another party own part of the property, and is working on KiwiBuild-aligned price points for homes.

Holyoake says: “It is not just about the housing. It is about the place-making. It is about cohesion and connectiveness within the neighbourhoods.”

Tāmaki might not be the model for all big housing projects looming in Auckland under Government initiatives, as it is a “brownfields” initiative, redeveloping existing properties sited among existing homes and regenerating communities whereas some others will be ‘greenfields’ created on open land.

“This has never been done in New Zealand before and we have learned a lot, so how do we share that?” Holyoake says.

Could Tāmaki’s plans be accelerated to match a political will for more homes, faster? Holyoake says consideration needs to be given to how to do more without compromising the overall regeneration. “There’s only so much a community can handle; 18,000 people live here – it’s about getting a balance.”

TRC has looked at overseas examples of successful urban regeneration, but come up with its own ideas from the community.

“We didn’t decide the outcomes,” Holyoake says. “We sat down with, most of all, the community and said what do we want to happen here?” And where possible we take on their suggestions. The community wanted and early child care centre, so we built one. It’s now run by a community Trust, and we refurbished an old scout hall to become a community facility. It’s about creating great places for people to live.”

And Mark Seymour, a Sydney-based brand strategist who has consulted on the Tāmaki project, tells Newsroom in part two of this series next week about the goal –  “what we are moving towards, this vision of a better place, where all people will be included, a place where people will flourish and prosper.”

This article has been prepared with help from the Tāmaki Regeneration Company.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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