What are the benefits and risks of developing mixed-tenure communities in New Zealand?

Last week I wrote about a paper we recently published that looked at how New Zealanders define mixed-tenure communities, and what’s important in how they’re designed. This is important because of the major developments going ahead that will transform the lives of thousands of people – those displaced by development as well as those housed in the new communities.

We also asked those people – involved either in developing housing policy, building mixed-tenure communities, or providing housing in those communities – about what they saw as the risks and benefits in building mixed-tenure communities. This is the topic of another paper and this post today.

Most of the current developments of mixed-tenure communities are on land formerly occupied by public housing. Our participants were aware that development would cause strong communities to change dramatically, and were concerned about the disruption to people’s lives. They worried that the development of mixed tenure in place of public housing would promote gentrification: the transformation of a neighbourhood’s character due to an influx of high-income people, which often prices out low-income residents, or changes the neighbourhood so dramatically that the low-income residents that remain feel like they don’t have a place there. Each of these issues has been observed in the international literature, and some New Zealand studies on recent mixed-tenure developments in Glen Innes and Pomare.

Though some participants emphasised those risks, other participants thought that mixed-tenure communities would benefit New Zealand by increasing supply of all types of housing. They thought that mixed-tenure enabled people to stay in their communities when they moved out of public housing. They thought that mixed-tenure communities avoided segregation by income, which built tolerance and a strong society. They saw a number of benefits for public tenants to living in mixed-tenure communities. They believed high-income people were best equipped to advocate for neighbourhood resourcing, which would benefit all residents. Others thought that homeowners would found clubs and provide support to their l public tenant neighbours. They thought that homeowners would be role models to public tenants; observing and interacting with homeowners would encourage public tenants to obtain jobs and look after their properties. Finally, some participants thought that living in a mixed-tenure community would mean public tenants would experience less stigma than they might in a community with more public housing.

Yet other participants disputed those ideas, and were concerned that public tenants living in a mixed-tenure community might feel isolated and uncomfortable. They recalled experiences where public tenants had felt surveilled and discriminated against by their neighbours.

These perspectives on mixed tenure communities, both negative and positive, are based on people’s experiences and predictions, and to some extent, on the international research. Yet as Kay and Nina Saville-Smith wrote in their review of the evidence, there is only mixed and weak evidence from overseas that outcomes improve for public tenants living in mixed tenure communities as opposed to public housing communities.

The uncertainty about the applicability of the international evidence base to New
Zealand, the high hopes and fears associated with the development of mixed-tenure communities, and the large-scale disruption incurred by current redevelopments, make a strong case for further research. Such research should test whether the predictions I’ve outlined here play out, what strategies work to minimise harms and maximise benefits, and what type of spatial scale, design, and tenure mix is most likely to lead to positive outcomes. Such research must include the perspectives of those displaced by and resident in mixed tenure communities.

For more:

Chisholm, E., Pierse, N., & Howden-Chapman, P. (2020). Perceived benefits and risks of developing mixed communities in New Zealand: Implementer perspectives. Urban Research & Practice. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/17535069.2020.1801831 Download PDF

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