Apartments…A part of your neighbourhood?

Auckland’s housing shortage has climbed to more than 40,000 homes. During April, the Auckland Design Manual will be looking at the different methods of tackling this shortfall. This week we’re looking at apartments.

Three years ago, I could boast that my home in uptown Auckland had harbour views. You had to squint, but they were there.

Since then, a 143-unit apartment building has been rising up between the sea and me, slowly but surely wiping out my view. This enormous edifice contains just a fraction of the 3000 new apartments projected to come on to the Auckland market over the next two years.

I can’t say I’m particularly thrilled with the lengthy, noisy and visually intrusive construction going on over the road. In industry parlance, this makes me a Nimby (“not in my backyard”) and apparently, Auckland is full of me.

When the Auckland Council unveiled the Proposed Unitary Plan and announced it was time to get high-rise, anti-intensification lobby groups managed to persuade it to downsize the process, citing the potential of monolithic beasts to clog and uglify the city.

But Auckland’s housing shortage just keeps getting worse, recently hitting a record high of 40,000 dwellings, tipped to grow at a further 5000 each year. Home ownership has dropped steadily: from half of people in their early 30s owning their own home at the start of the millennium to less than a third.

You may have had to squint, but there was a sea view...

You may have had to squint, but there was a sea view…


 In short, we’re becoming a city of renters.

For pre-millennials, this is requiring a giant cultural shift. Hitherto we have equated flatting with being young and broke; or what happens in crowded, polluted cities overseas. But the facts are cold and hard. As I write this, the average Auckland property price sits at over a million dollars and for Aucklanders of every age, the quarter-acre dream is a delusion.

This, economist Shamubeel Eaqub says, is Generation Rent, where most renters do so not by choice, but because the New Zealand housing market is “broken”. “With large regions of one and two storey buildings right next to the [Auckland] CBD and a lack of density around transport corridors, we simply don’t use the land well and that has to change.

“We’ve got ourselves into a situation now where we can’t go out and we can’t go up, but population continues to increase. We need to manage these increases in population density somehow, but the Nimbies are just too powerful.”

Eaqub predicts that soon, Generation Rent will be the majority of the population and eventually the majority of voters. This will likely force New Zealand to change their rental policies to give more tenure security to tenants.

Apartments are in the air…

OECD findings have shown that Auckland’s high housing costs, possibly the most expensive in the world relative to rents, are resulting in material hardship for many of its residents. One of their key recommendations to alleviate the issue was denser housing developments in central suburbs such as Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Mt Eden, Remuera, Parnell and Epsom.

There’s a broad spectrum of debate going on in response. The government has made it clear it wants more apartments and at a cheaper price. Former Minister Responsible for Housing, and current Prime Minister, Bill English has previously said, “It’s all very well having really nice looking $800,000 or $900,000 apartments but most people can’t afford them. And if we want more people in the city we have to have more affordable apartments.”

Economist Bernard Hickey argues there are too many impediments to densification, such as heritage overlays, and height and view restrictions. “Auckland needs to grow ‘up’ and it needs political leadership to convince those on the isthmus to embrace that growth.”

If more apartments are inevitable, former local and regional councillor Tony Holman says “there should be specific plans to increase open space and community facilities. With the projected major increase in population and intensification, there needs to be a plan for a commensurate increase in our parks and open space.” In other words, if we’re going back to the drawing board to reconsider the types of housing we will build for Auckland, we also need to think about the types of neighbourhood amenities we’ll need to support intensification.

Around the globe, successful modern apartment complexes are ones that eschew the cookie cutter mold and offer a diverse range of housing and apartment types, and fulfill the needs of a variety of household groups, from singles to families, to the elderly to those with limited mobility. They are compatible with their environments and provide amenities inside and out.

A well-considered approach to density can be found in Sydney’s Redfern East Social Housing Project, which integrates apartments and terraced housing for young families, elderly and disabled people.

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Redfern East Social Housing Development, Sydney


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Redfern East Social Housing Development, Sydney


The development appropriately blends in to its neighbourhood and incorporates street trees, common areas and outdoors spaces for residents. It is also one of only two social housing projects in Australia to receive five green stars from the Green Building Council of Australia.

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Site map for Redfern East Social Housing Development, Sydney


Back home, there is also reason to be optimistic that the words “apartments” and quality” might someday be synonymous.

Since the amalgamation of Auckland’s councils, and more recently the adoption of the Unitary Plan, quality apartment developments are starting to sprout up around the city.

Ockham Residential recently completed The Isaac, a contemporary apartment development in the city fringe suburb of Grey Lynn. The development boasts 75 apartments of a range of sizes, as well as two commercial tenancies on the ground level. It is a well-designed development that makes the most of a challenging site.

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The Isaac, Grey Lynn, Auckland


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The Isaac‘s communal rooftop garden


The development is broken into three buildings to better compliment the character of Surrey Crescent and the surrounding neighbourhood, which are predominantly standalone houses.  With generous balconies, views out to the Waitakere Ranges and walkable access to local shops and parks, The Isaac sets a quality benchmark for apartments in Auckland.

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A new street within The Isaac


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An example apartment layout in The Isaac


As well as The Isaac, Ockham Residential also has developments underway in Newmarket, Mt Eden, Avondale and the rapidly-growing Hobsonville Point. Ockham’s Mark Todd has an eye to the changing property market with their expanding portfolio of developments. With regards to the Akepiro Street development in Mt Eden, currently under construction, Todd says: “I’m going to really cater to the young urban generation, people who are struggling to get on the property ladder, couples with one or no car who both work in the city. We want to design this as one of the coolest, most progressive green buildings in the city.”

Redfern, The Isaac and other developments such as The Lighthouse and FABRIC of ONEHUNGA are evidence of a new breed of apartments designed with genuine care for the people who inhabit them. They cater to the myriad kinds of modern families and provide options for the young, the less well-off, the elderly and others who have been woefully under-served in the housing market.

Best of all, they are easy on the eye: the kinds of places even a Nimby could cope with in her backyard.

For case studies and apartment design solutions, check out the Auckland Design Manual’s Apartments Hub.

 Next week, we look at Auckland’s increasing demand for high density family housing and the best way to provide this.

 Article by Julie Hill

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One Response to “Apartments…A part of your neighbourhood?”

  1. Julie&Blair Says:

    Totally concur with the comments written by Julie Hill….
    Culture shift and embracing a different housing model into the future for our city.


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