$83m Ted Manson Foundation project is NZ’s biggest new philanthropic social house scheme

Residents are now at home in New Zealand’s largest privately-developed social housing project, a twin-tower development in Glen Eden.

The $83m Westlight was built by the Ted Manson Foundation, headed by developer and philanthropist Ted Manson (ONZM), and includes 90 social or state homes among its 167 units.

“This is the largest privately-developed social housing scheme in New Zealand,” Manson says of the project, opened on December 15.

The foundation also developed the new $35m Life Apartments on Liverpool St in the Auckland CBD, taking its contribution to social housing to around $110m.

The Ministry of Social Development says about 22,000 New Zealanders are on the state house waiting list.

New Zealand has a drastic shortage of state homes, so Manson decided to answer the call. His career has been in developing properties via the country’s largest privately-owned developer, Mansons TCLM, founded by his father Colin and now run by his sons Culum, Luc and Mac.

“Not enough wealthy people give enough back,” says Manson. “If all the well-off people here spent more time and money on helping those less well-off, New Zealand wouldn’t have such a large divide between the rich and the poor. I know it takes time, but if you don’t have the time, just give away some of your money to your chosen charities. That’s not hard.”

The new 17,503sq m Glen Eden building with harakeke facade motifs was designed by mc2 Architects as towers of 10 and 11 levels. It was built by Ron Macrae CMP Construction. Every apartment has a balcony, and some have two.

Ninety of the units are social housing, run by the not-for-profit group Compass Housing NZ for people eligible for state accommodation under the ministry’s criteria. These places, worth at least $40m, are the foundation’s donation to the state housing pool.

Another 34 apartments are KiwiBuild, sold to first-time homeowners who qualified under that scheme, priced from $400,000 for one-bedrooms up to $465,000 higher up the towers.

Forty-one apartments were sold on the open market, mainly to non-occupying investors and priced at $555,000 for a one-bedroom unit and up to $695,000 for two bedrooms.

One apartment is the manager’s unit and one has been converted into a common room for residents to hold meetings and socialise. Carparks sold for $40,000 each.

The foundation retained ownership of the 90 social housing units, its donation to the state under a 25-year lease agreement, “and my son Mac will carry on running that after I finish”, Manson says.

When the Herald visited Westlight, Manson was meeting a residents’ representative group who told him how living at Westlight had changed their lives, and how delighted they were with the new immaculately clean apartments.

Resident Damien Wolgast asked why there were no rubbish chutes, but Manson explained that they were impractical in tall buildings. Others praised the placement of rubbish bins, while resident Tipani Vaipapa mentioned cigarette butts being thrown by residents, so talk turned to providing disposal trays.

Manson told residents that his first social housing project, Life Apartments on Liverpool St in Auckland’s CBD, had won the NZ Building Industry Award for the best project in the $20m-$35m category last year. There, 73 out of 92 apartments are social housing.

He says he came away from that March 10 meeting buoyed by the positive responses and says he and foundation chief executive Sam McCloy-McKenzie will continue to meet residents.

But the foundation’s new project did not come cheap: “We didn’t worry too much about the costs, which in hindsight maybe I should have,” Manson says from the podium level between the towers, overlooking the town centre.

That was an understatement, considering that construction of Westlight took two-and-a-half years and $12m in extra costs.

One of the problems was with the earthworks, thanks to “the ground being very sludgy and right on the railway line”. Some piles had to be driven down an eye-watering 30m and it took many more piles than anticipated.

Acoustic issues meant the facade had to be re-consented, mostly because of the diesel freight trains going past the site twice a day. Now, residents won’t hear those trains unless the window or doors are open. The buildings are very soundproof, much more so than originally consented.

Covid-19 also caused problems. “We hired an Australian company to make, supply and install the facade,” says Manson. “The installers came over from Australia and flew back during the first lockdown. They then wouldn’t return so we had to find new installers in New Zealand.

“Westlight, therefore, took longer to build due to the earthworks but more so due to Covid.”

The land purchase, construction, design, fees, Auckland Council and Watercare costs came to $78.2m, while marketing, advertising and commission added an extra $1.8m but Manson says the $83m is not yet the total “because there will be ongoing costs for the foundation to pay for the rental guarantee and other fees”.

Dr Bernadette Pinnell, general manager of Compass Housing NZ which manages the 90 social apartments, says Westlight is now full, with its own waiting list. To be eligible for one of the 90, applicants must meet the state’s housing need criteria.

McCloy-McKenzie says social housing tenants must pay for their own power and contribute 25 per cent of a unit’s weekly rent: $432 for a one-bedroom, and $520 for two bedrooms. That 25 per cent usually comes from a benefit, such as Work and Income or Accident Compensation Corporation, she says. Residents qualify for income-related rent subsidies.

So how did the foundation strike the lease with the state?

“The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and the foundation signed a 25-year lease which represents a new funding framework being trialled in Auckland that sought to increase private sector investment in the development of community housing,” Manson says.

All the apartments are sold, except the final one, now under negotiation.

Asked what he learned at Westlight, Manson says: “acoustic treatment is crucial for transit oriented developments, especially when next to a rail line. This should be at the forefront of any developer’s mind and considered early in the process. Westlight’s construction costs significantly increased to align with the standards required under the Auckland Unitary Plan and changing requirements after London’s Grenfell fire.”

Asked what the foundation is doing now, he says that after Life and Westlight, no further new homes will be built.

“I would have loved to have built more social housing developments but the foundation won’t be building any more. They take years of planning and then building, they are very capital intensive and working with both the National and Labour parties is extremely time-consuming and can take years for final signoff.

“With the two developments nearly complete, I will now have a lot more time to focus on other areas of need in the Auckland community. The foundation will now focus on low-decile schools and how the foundation can help with supplying 12-seater vans, clothing, and school equipment for those young children most in need.”

Three new $60,000 Ford Transit 12-seaters have already been donated: two to Glen Eden Primary opposite Westlight and one to Ōtara’s Mayfield Primary School.

Within 10 years, the foundation plans to donate 50 12-seater vehicles, to enable pupils access to travel and educational options they would not otherwise have.

Despite problems with Westlight, Manson delights in the end result, saying he has met a need to house more than 100 people who had become ill, lost jobs or suffered problems that meant they could not afford homes.

“I’ve done it to make a difference – and I have.”

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