Is build-to-rent the answer?

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By - , Build 187

Build-to-rent is hailed in some circles as a solution to New Zealand’s housing crisis. In practice, there could be some pitfalls along the way.

AS WE FACE the triple threat of a housing crisis, climate crisis and a pandemic, could build-to-rent be a solution to providing the equitable, sustainable homes Aotearoa needs? Could it also provide social, cultural, environmental and economic sustainability – and if so, how?

Timely panel discussion

These were the key questions tackled by an expert panel during an Auckland Climate Festival event. The discussion couldn’t have been timelier. As Meredith Dale, the event’s moderator, an urban strategist and the Green Building Council’s Future Thinker of the Year, noted, there’s been increasing interest in build-to-rent particularly in the property sector.

However, there’s been little discussion about the model among design professionals and architecture and green building practitioners.

Benefits identified

Benefits that build-to-rent can deliver were identified by the panel. Build-to-rent is an opportunity to create positive urban change offering longer-term tenancies and providing more housing security for tenants. It can provide housing closer to shops, parks, public transport hubs and other amenities, reducing private car use. The model sits well with a drive for increased density and could provide hundreds of homes within a large mixed-use setting.

It also offers a chance to build communities by focusing on the whole building rather than individual apartments. Communal spaces can be incorporated, enabling tenants to get to know their neighbours.

Communal spaces such as laundries and workspaces could reduce individual costs for tenants, and build-to-rent could also cut costs in that it does away with a body corporate and the associated costs tenants normally pay.

It could encourage a focus on the customer or tenant, improving quality and liveability.

Build-to-rent could also offer a path to expand collective housing – perhaps to a cooperative model where tenants could buy shares or a stake in the collective building. Overseas, build-to-rent has suited modular construction methods, reducing construction waste.

The negatives

However, build-to-rent has not been a sustainable and equitable game changer in places like the UK and the US. Corporate ownership of apartments also took a knock in Berlin as voters backed a campaign to expropriate housing owned by large corporate landlords, amid claims of rapid gentrification, the loss of community and social bonds and low-income households struggling to find affordable places to live.

Expanding build-to-rent could have the consequence of expanding investment in homes for the more well-off rather than those on lower incomes. Increased corporate ownership of property could also lead to more evictions and lower investment in housing stock, studies from abroad have shown.

There are also worries that expanding corporate ownership of housing will accelerate the trend towards housing being viewed as an asset, increasing its commodification rather than providing homes for families. 

For more

The panel discussion is free to watch at

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