Matt Lawrey, Nelson City Councillor, Green Party candidate and writer.
Doubling our housing
What is your big idea?
To increase the quality and quantity of Nelson’s housing stock by giving people the right to turn their existing house into two dwellings or to build a second dwelling on their property, as long as it doesn’t create problems for their neighbours. Basically, I’m talking about giving the old granny-flat concept a major upgrade.
How does it work?
Currently in Nelson and Tasman such a move requires resource consent, which can be a challenging and expensive process. The biggest impediment to building in our part of the country isn’t the cost of construction or red tape – it’s the cost of land. The Canadians recognised this and the evils of urban sprawl years ago, and over there they talk about ‘second suites’.
Allowing second suites effectively provides people with free land to build on. It’s free because they already own it. Imagine how much cheaper it would be to build a cottage or a studio if you didn’t have to buy any land. We’re not talking about subdividing; we’re talking about allowing two dwellings on one title as long as it doesn’t create headaches for neighbours in terms of things like daylight angles and site coverage.
Who will benefit?
If second suites became normal practice in Nelson, a tonne of people will benefit. Asset-rich but income-poor residents will be able to make money out of their properties, making it easier for them to stay in their own homes. It would also help family members to live near each other and to support each other. Imagine you’re retired and your grown-up son or daughter has a young family of their own but they’re struggling to find somewhere to live. A second suite could provide you with a new, double-glazed, well-insulated, well-designed townhouse to live in and free up your main house for the younger ones.
Another great thing about allowing people to add a second dwelling to an existing property is that it would lead to more housing in existing neighbourhoods, which means they would be near schools, shops and parks. This would result in savings for ratepayers as there would be less demand for the expensive services and infrastructure that come with new subdivisions.
Allowing second suites could also reduce the amount of horticultural and farm land being turned into subdivisions, as well as reducing congestion as it would see more people living closer to town. Increasing the housing supply would also act as a handbrake on rising rents, making life less stressful for long-term renters and making it easier for first-home buyers to save.
What is needed to get the ball rolling?
Make a submission to Nelson City Council when the draft Nelson Plan is released in October, or email my fellow councillors – you’ll find their addresses on the NCC website. If you live in Tasman, let your councillors know or contact the council’s environmental policy team. If you live in Marlborough, you can relax – Marlburians are already allowed to do most of what I’m suggesting.