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  • Nor­rie has Irish and Maori her­it­age, both of which are sig­ni­fied by engrav­ings in his toko­toko (walk­ing sticks)

Nor­rie Powers has lived in social hous­ing for the past six years, and moved into the newly ren­ov­ated Cent­ral Park Apart­ments in Brook­lyn two years ago.

Long story short, buy­ing a home for the kids mixed with a few oth­er life decisions meant I ended up here,” Nor­rie tells us with a chuckle. He sits in his arm­chair and com­ic­ally shares tales of his life as a journ­al­ist and about the place he calls home.

This spot right here is my favour­ite,” he says. “I love read­ing, keep­ing up with cur­rent affairs and watch­ing movies right here in this seat.” With his favour­ite chair per­fectly situ­ated in line with the tele­vi­sion and a view of a pōhu­tukawa, you can­not blame him.

When I draw the blinds and it is beau­ti­ful out there, I think, geez, I am a lucky bug­ger,” he says.

Norrie’s one-bed­room apart­ment is adorned with all things import­ant to him, pho­to­graphs of his beloved grand­chil­dren and an extremely large DVD and VHS col­lec­tion tak­ing centre stage.

I live in one of the safest and health­i­est places in the coun­try since the upgrades,” he says as he proudly gives us the grand tour. “We have a state-of-the-art inter­com sys­tem, and the front doors are recycled from Fort Knox!” he adds with a grin.

What’s more, Cent­ral Park is safe from earth­quakes, Nor­rie tells us, and pro­ceeds to regale us with the tale of the June 2013 earth­quake, when he found him­self at his mate Colin’s apart­ment hug­ging a whisky bottle and hop­ing his home was okay. “When I returned, only a photo had fallen to the ground,” he says.

You can­not under­es­tim­ate the power of a safe and healthy home, it is won­der­ful and has worked won­ders for my well-being,” Nor­rie tells us. “I actu­ally look for­ward to com­ing home.”

Social hous­ing is no stranger to May­or Celia Wade-Brown, who grew up in a coun­cil flat in Lon­don. A warm, dry and safe home is a fun­da­ment­al right, she says, adding, “I’m delighted that ten­ants are hap­pi­er and health­i­er in our refur­bished apartments.”

Cent­ral Park Apart­ments may not always have had the best repu­ta­tion, but this changed in 2012 after an extens­ive rebuild and upgrade cost­ing $34m — one stage in a long-term pro­ject to bring all of Wel­ling­ton City Council’s hous­ing stock up to a stand­ard the city can be proud of. The apart­ments have become an archi­tec­tur­al mas­ter­piece, and a place its res­id­ents are proud to call home.

Archi­tects Novak + Middleton, the mas­ter­minds behind this pro­ject, became totally involved and com­mit­ted. “They went the extra mile and put their heart and soul into it,” Nor­rie says.

The efforts of the archi­tects and the coun­cil were not only recog­nised by ten­ants, but also fur­ther afield. Cent­ral Park has won mul­tiple awards in New Zea­l­and and Aus­tralia, includ­ing Best Social Hous­ing Pro­ject in the Aus­tralasi­an Hous­ing Awards in 2013.

While there will always be a cer­tain stigma attached to social hous­ing, Nor­rie believes that Cent­ral Park is a step in the right dir­ec­tion toward chan­ging this. “My back­ground in the men­tal health com­munity means that part of my philo­sophy is to destig­mat­ise,” he says.

He explains that when you have a place like Cent­ral Park the ten­ants appre­ci­ate it. “Nicer hous­ing changes how people feel about them­selves,” he says.

A man of many words, Nor­rie needed only a few to explain what liv­ing at Cent­ral Park is like: “Liv­ing here is not like liv­ing in a com­plex. This is a community.”

Nor­rie has no plans to leave the place he calls home, and he thanks his lucky stars that he is for­tu­nate enough to live here. “I am so lucky!” he says, “I love it here, the only way they will get me out of here is by car­ry­ing me out in a box.”

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