Almost 20 Baptist trusts provide some form of social housing or emergency accommodation in New Zealand. CORT Community Housing, whose roots lie in Ponsonby Baptist Church, is one of these.
CORT has moved from small beginnings and precarious finances to a place as one of New Zealand’s larger social housing providers. Its early decision to purchase rather than lease its properties has put it in good stead.
However its initial approach to house buying was somewhat unconventional, as demonstrated by its first purchase in 1987. Inspired by cooperative housing in Melbourne and hearing of a Housing Corporation Urban Renewal scheme that offered 100% finance at low interest, Pastor Mike Riddell of Ponsonby Baptist Church put in a bid for a house and applied for a loan. Needing to formalise his initiative, CORT was formed in August 1987. The trust then promptly gave retrospective approval to purchase the house! Over time, and after some knife-edge fiscal moments, the guidance of a prudent treasurer helped the trust balance good intentions with financial reality.
In 1988 CORT purchased and renovated a decaying villa in Picton Street, Ponsonby, returning the building to its 19th century elegance. The house became a symbol of the dignity CORT aims to offer its tenants. It also marked the beginning of their specialisation in the field of mental health, when the trust received a Department of Social Welfare grant towards a rehabilitation programme for former patients of Carrington Hospital. The Picton Street property became a base for tenants’ meetings and a springboard for integration into the wider community.
Today CORT’s flats are scattered across the Auckland region, rather than being clustered in Ponsonby and surrounding suburbs. Staff and a couple of tenants are developing a pattern of chat cafés to bring tenants together, stimulate their feedback about the trust, and link tenants to each other and to their community. A tenants’ newsletter keeps them updated too.
With 152 units of its own and 80 properties it manages for private owners, CORT currently provides homes for more than 300 people on low incomes. The plan is to build 100 new homes a year for the next three years or until funding runs out. But growth is not the only goal.
CORT aims to be a model of the way in which small groups can have an edge, setting a high standard in their care of tenants and in the design of new apartments. In 2017 the Australasian Housing Institute gave CORT CEO Peter Jeffries its Award for Excellence in Social Housing. It was a fitting climax to the trust’s 30th year and acknowledgement of Peter’s long service in several roles.
CORT’s vision is clear: to be a voice for vulnerable people and to produce affordable housing for people who have to rent in a city that is among the most unaffordable in the world. Its work rests on the founding belief that ‘the simple act of providing people with the dignity of adequate accommodation can produce profound changes’.