Palmerston North social enterprise builds $2.5 million worth of Homes for People in its first year

A Palmerston North programme that created 11 affordable houses in its first year has almost twice as many homes on the drawing board for next year.

L-R: Homes for People founders Cheri and Darren Birch, with Alesha Thomson, a future resident of the housing block.

Homes for People has marked its first anniversary, celebrating providing housing collectively worth $2.5 million for people on lower incomes to buy. The social enterprise has 21 homes planned for next year.

It has already helped dozens of people – like Alesha Thomson, who will move into the Wakefield St development when it's completed in six weeks.

Thomson said it was hard to express what it meant to her – after years of anxiety and uncertainty stuck on ACC, she had started to lose hope of ever having her own home.


"It feels like I can exhale for the first time in a long time."

Thomson has held her breath, waiting for her life to resume, for two years. The 36-year-old was living in Auckland, and closing in on saving up enough to buy a house, when complications from back surgery put her on ACC, unable to work.

She moved to Palmerston North to restart her life, and to find a new job once her doctors cleared her for work – although that wouldn't be until 2019 at the earliest, she said.

"I moved down here specifically to get a house. Then I realised I couldn't do it, even here."

Thomson wasn't alone in that. A long-term shortage of houses for sale and climbing prices in Palmerston North have left a growing number of lower-income families struggling to get a place of their own.

This June, there were 216 households on the social housing register in Palmerston North, more than 10 times the length of the list just four years ago.

In Thomson's case, the banks were uncomfortable approving her loan with ACC as her primary income, especially since it was unclear how long that would last, she said.

Homes for People founders Darren and Cheri Birch set her up with a mortgage broker, and helped her buy one of the five houses at the Wakefield St development.

The scheme works through people buying a share of a house and they slowly buy out Homes for People's share.

Darren Birch said Homes for People started with $600. It took five years to gather the donors and loans to start the first development in late 2017.

The enterprise also provided 35 households with short-term accommodation as they got back on their feet.

Another 100 families could be helped with short-term housing next year.

"It's pretty exciting. But it's not about the numbers. It's about the people like Alesha, who we're making a big difference for. That's what motivates us."

Read the story on Stuff here.

Watch Homes for People's video update with interviews from our home occupants, an investor, board member, and a commercial partner.

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