We were the first local authority in New Zealand to provide social housing. We started out in the early 1920s providing homes for the elderly. Today a wide range of people are eligible for the Council’s social housing.

They include the elderly, disabled persons, sickness or unemployment beneficiaries and people on very low incomes. In general, all of these people have met financial hardship criteria. They are also some of Christchurch’s most vulnerable residents.

The early years

Barnett Avenue social housingBarnett Avenue - New Zealand's first purpose-built elderly persons' housing complex.

After the First World War there was an acute housing shortage in Christchurch. In 1921, the Council received a special loan from the State Advances Office to build eight houses on Council land in Huxley Street, Sydenham. Six more were built in 1922.

Although hampered by a lack of funds, in 1935, the Council decided that something further needed to be done about the city’s housing shortage. In 1938, a sub-committee recommended that a £25,000 loan be raised from the State Advances Department to construct 50 old-age pensioners’ cottages.

The report was adopted and the first 16 cottages were built on a portion of what was then the waterworks yard in Sydenham. They were built facing Barnett Avenue, a street specifically designed for the new housing complex.

Officially opened in August 1938, Barnett Avenue was the first purpose-built complex for elderly persons’ housing (EPH) provided by a local authority in New Zealand. Later, another £25,000 loan was raised and eight more cottages built on the same site. Another 26 houses were built on Willard Street, at the rear of Addington School, bringing the city’s total number of pensioners’ cottages to 50.

High-growth years

Social housing grew over the years to provide more housing for Christchurch’s elderly residents. The 1970s and 1980s were particularly high-growth years. Some complexes were built on Council-owned land, others were purchased by the Council already built. This growth was encouraged by central government, which offered low-interest loans to city councils to provide housing.

Central government stopped providing the low-interest loans in the early 1990s. Along with this change, Christchurch City Council acknowledged that there were gaps in the provision of affordable housing for people with disabilities or who were otherwise disadvantaged.

After a 1996 review of housing needs, a formal decision was made to build more flexible accommodation options to meet the community's needs (e.g. units with more bedrooms or facilities for people with physical disabilities).

Social housing today

Prior to the Canterbury earthquakes, there were 117 complexes and more than 2,640 units throughout Christchurch and Banks Peninsula. The original Huxley Street properties no longer belong to the Council, but Barnett Avenue continues to provide housing for 26 tenants. Christchurch City Council now has the second largest portfolio of social housing in New Zealand, after Housing New Zealand Corporation.

The Council's tenancies are today managed by the Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust(external link), established in 2016. The Trust is responsible for tenancy management, rent-setting, and the day-to-day maintenance of all social housing, while major repairs, renewals and the development of new housing remains the Council's domain, as owner of the land and buildings.