In the third of a series about major changes to neighbourhoods and communities in east Auckland in association with the Tamaki Regeneration Company, Steve Deane visits people living in the new homes of the flagship Fenchurch area of Glen Innes.
The view from Nan Thompson’s upstairs bedroom stretches out across a building site and on to the wind-swept Tāmaki Estuary.
The 59-year-old lifetime Glen Innes resident is enjoying that outlook while she can – it will soon be replaced by a suite of new homes similar to her immaculate three-bedroom, semi-detached Tāmaki Housing Association (THA) property.
That inevitable development doesn’t overly bother her.
“I’ve lived around here my whole life,” she says. “So you get used to it [the view]. And, in the winter, the cold wind blows straight off the water and the window fogs right up.”
The moisture and the cold, though, remain on the outside layer of the window’s double glazing. Thompson’s new home is like many springing up around Tāmaki now – modern, warm and dry. It is located in the Tāmaki Regeneration Company’s Fenchurch Street development, a 170 hectare (TRC land) area bounded by Tāmaki College on one side and Glenbrae School on the other.
A red line overlaid on a map marking the development [below] charts a jagged course – the result of an extensive planning process that blended the need to replace ageing, low-rise state housing stock with a higher density modern alternative, while working around existing privately-owned dwellings.
The first bold step in a 25-year-operation to rejuvenate Tāmaki, the Fenchurch area was selected primarily because of the large amount of existing free space. By building on that first, TRC could minimise disruption at the start of a process that will eventually rehouse the residents of 2800 THA dwellings.
Before development there were approximately 150 houses within the Fenchurch boundary, of which 120 were owned by TRC, housing roughly 600 people.
Those state houses have been demolished, and will be replaced by around 400 new dwellings, of which 145 will be state-owned, 50 ‘affordable’ and the balance to be sold on the private market.
By the end of 2021, the Fenchurch development will be completed; its housing stock transformed into a “mixed tenure” blend of state, affordable and private homes. If TRC’s target of a 3-1 uplift in density is achieved at Fenchurch, it will soon be home to 1800 people.
Thompson was among the first state house tenants to be relocated, with her son and grandson.
Indistinguishable from any other typical newbuild from the outside, her three-bedroom home is bright and smart. “It’s like a show home,” she tells Newsroom. And it is. The fittings are modern and stylish.
A machinist, mental health worker and even an aerobics instructor before emphysema forced her to stop working, December will mark 59 years since Thompson was born into a state house on Apirana Ave.
Her latest house on Taniwha Street is the fifth state property she has lived in. There’s a nice symmetry in that, she feels, as the first house she lived in after moving from her parents’ home was also on Taniwha Street.
She moved out of that first Taniwha Street home for a larger house following the birth of her second child.
Her stay in Chiltern Crescent was short-lived, as the house had unstable foundations. Her next property, in Epping Street, would be the family home for over 20 years.
Typical of much of the area’s social housing stock, the house had bare floors and no insulation. But it was on a large section where children could roam, and it was loved.
It was like a “mini marae”, Thompson says, with neighbours often leaving their children in her care. While she enjoyed that, some took it for granted, and it wore her down.
Her new home in the Fenchurch development is much quieter – when the heavy machinery across the road isn’t operating.
“It took a while to get used to it,” she says. “But I am adjusting to it.”
Nan’s initial reaction to her brand new home wasn’t unusual, says TRC’s general manager strategy and performance Shelley Katae. The company has surveyed Tāmaki ’s residents extensively before, during and after development and relocation.
A key lesson from that, says Katae, is: “don’t think you know everything. The priorities that come through are not always the priorities we have anticipated.”
TRC’s assumption tenants would automatically be thrilled at the prospect of moving into warm, dry, healthy homes hasn’t always proved correct.
“What a lot of our tenants saw, which was absolutely fair enough, was a decrease in the size of the backyard.”
Initial misgivings, though, had faded after tenants adjusted to their change in circumstance.
Thompson recalls having people shout out of their cars as they drove past her new house, suggesting she must have done something untoward to have lucked into being among the first to be rehoused.
“Now that people have moved in, their stories are ‘oh my god my kids don’t get sick in winter, it’s amazing’,” says Katae. “Those stories now are getting out to the community and it is starting to build-up demand.”
Nan is among the converted.
“It’s a lovely home. It’s warm. It’s not so big that I struggle to clean it. The other houses were difficult because of all the separate rooms. In winter you’d go to the warmest room first. This one there is no problem.”
She was, she admits, among those who were troubled when TRC’s regeneration proposals for Tāmaki were first tabled.
“A lot of people were protesting and you sort of got confused until you were actually part of it,” she says. “I thought it would be upsetting and distressing but it wasn’t.”
A big part of that, she says, was the extensive community consultation undertaken by TRC.
“That helped a whole lot. We went to the meetings. You weren’t left out. It wasn’t like ‘just sit there and listen and this is what is happening’. They actually included you in a korero, asked your opinions. I found it quite calming.”
The initial consultation phase of the project began in early 2013 and ran for around two years. The goal was to determine the footprint for what would become TRC’s flagship development, and put in place plans that would deliver both the requirement to boost housing density in the area and rejuvenate a deeply deprived community.
“The given is the housing – we had to increase the density of the housing to produce the housing outcomes,” says Katae. “But, actually, there is a lot of scope for the community to co-design with us what these neighbourhoods would look like.
“We literally started with maps on the table. We got into a room with community leaders and laid butter paper over the top and said ‘right, what are we going to do’?”
Somewhat surprisingly to TRC, Fenchurch residents didn’t place an improvement in the housing stock at the top of their wish list for the area. The most pressing need was for an early childhood education facility within walking distance.
TRC duly changed the project boundaries to accommodate the building of an ECE centre at Glenbrae School.
A dilapidated, disused scout hall was identified as a source of angst for local residents. The lot behind the hall had become a hub for youth drinking, and the building’s state of disrepair was viewed as a beacon for the neglect felt by the community.
TRC used its influence to galvanise pro bono support to partially fund refurbishments and set up a trust to operate the hall, which has now become a vibrant community hub.
Walking routes, particularly for kids going to college and safety around existing alleyways, as well as access to parks were among the many issues raised during the consultation phase that have shaped TRC’s planning.
While the Tāmaki commitment – that existing residents who wish to stay in the area will have every opportunity to do so – is central to TRC’s planning, so too is the requirement to increase the density of housing in an area just 12 minutes by rail from Auckland’s CBD.
That means building new homes that will attract private buyers into the area. The ‘mixed, blind tenure’ model adopted by TRC envisages those private home owners living harmoniously and fully integrated with social housing tenants.
Richard Boyd, a 30-year-old product manager for a not-for-profit, and his wife Sutherland purchased their four-bedroom home in the Fenchurch development in December 2017.
The Boyds were searching for their first home, while Richard’s parents were seeking an investment property. Going halves in a new-build property in an area close to the CBD that has been earmarked for significant regeneration made perfect sense.
“We came across this property out in GI that was part of a new subdivision,” says Boyd. “We just liked the look of it. I love the area. I played football for Ellerslie and we played a lot of games at Point England. Every time I went out there I was like ‘this area might be a bit rough around the edges but it is a beautiful spot’. I’d always liked the idea of buying in Point England / GI but I hadn’t really realised the scope of the development work that is going on.”
Having grown up in Christchurch and then lived in Wellington for seven years before moving to Auckland in 2013, Boyd wasn’t overly aware or bothered by perceptions of Tāmaki as a state house-dominated area.
“I’ve only been here for five-odd years so I didn’t have that historical bias that might have been there. A friend of mine who’d grown up in GI couldn’t get his head around it. He said: ‘I find it really weird that I’m visiting you on a street that I’ve always avoided’.”
Tāmaki ’s largely untapped natural environment was a large part of the appeal.
“We’re right down the back and have views out over the estuary, onto the field and over the water. It’s nice to be able to look out the window and have that green space there.”
The development where Boyd’s house is located isn’t the fully integrated mixed tenure model often favoured by TRC. Instead, a lane of private houses is separated from a lane of social houses by a fence.
“You don’t really get the natural opportunities to interact as you would with the ‘salt and pepper’ model,” says Boyd. “I actually think I’d prefer that. It’s a lot easier when people are in your face as opposed to behind you.
“But we’re getting to know the neighbours well, which is pretty cool.”
‘Salt and pepper’ isn’t a description favoured by TRC as it conjures up perception of segregation. Pepper potting is the preferred term, meaning mixed tenure where affordable, state and private ownership occurs in the same neighbourhood. Also, mixed tenure is not always pepper potted, but it is never segregated.
Increasing the level of home ownership among Tāmaki ’s existing (yes, predominantly Maori and Pacific) populace is one of the social outcomes TRC is attempting to generate (and is the subject of a following article in this series).
In any case, the mixed tenure model isn’t absolute across the Fenchurch development. Some smaller clusters of purely state housing were built early in the development, for instance, to enable the rehousing of state tenants whose homes were earmarked for early demolition.
It is possible the blend in the Boyds’ neighbourhood could change if what are currently state houses are later sold on the open market.
TRC’s fledgling Fenchurch development is very much a proving ground for the company’s regeneration strategies, says Katae. It is not perfect in design or execution, but it is a giant step in the right direction. “Our plans for the area are based on extensive, interviewing, evidence and exemplars.
“We are learning a lot as we go – about unanticipated issues that have come up – that we can use in other neighbourhoods, not just in Tāmaki but in regeneration areas across Auckland.
“We are not saying that we know everything right here and now about regeneration. We are only very early on in the project. But we absolutely have the system set up to learn as we go so that it is better going forward.”
Back on Taniwha Street, Thompson is going through her mail.
“I just got a panui (newsletter) in the mailbox saying we’re having a street meet. They are shutting off the street so we can meet the new neighbours. When I moved here I was the neighbour! I didn’t have any neighbours. So I want to go to that.”
With summer approaching, the plants in Nan’s small backyard are starting to feel the pinch mainly, she points out, because there is no outside tap out back to which she can attach a hose.
“With any project there are quirks in there,” shrugs Nan. “Once all these houses are built there is going to be limited parking. But the people need to understand this is progress.
“I appreciate what I have been given. You only ever dream about being given a brand new house, you never actually think it is going to happen.
“You know the old saying that if it is too good to be true… I doubt that saying now.”
This article has been prepared with help from the Tāmaki Regeneration Company.