The community housing sector is critical of a big Auckland Council development, which will deliver more than 100 upmarket apartments but exclude social or affordable homes.
The council's development agency, Panuku, said the Dominion Road site was too valuable for affordable housing, and mayor Phil Goff agreed.
"Clearly our city does need more affordable and social housing but given that [council] has a limited amount of money to spend, you're not going to put affordable housing on the most expensive land in the city," Mr Goff said.
But community housing providers were not impressed with the greater focus more on the financial return, rather than achieving social goals on at least part of the site.
"It's very short-sighted to see the return as a monetary return only," said James Widgery, who chairs the Auckland Community Housing Providers Network.
"There's also logic to the argument that if you shove poverty to the outskirts, and create conditions that are not conducive, just because it's cheaper, then the return to the ratepayers is actually less."
"There's going to be so many social ills and social problems that whether you say it's a central government or local government issue - it has to be paid," he said.
The debate highlights the tension in a system where the council leaves many decisions to Council Controlled Organisations, or CCOs, operating with only broad political direction.
The site near the corner of Dominion and Valley Road has been bought in two stages by the former Auckland City Council in 2003 and 2006 for a transport idea, since discarded.
At the final Finance Committee meeting of the first term of the amalgamated Auckland Council in September 2013, Auckland Council Properties Limited (ACPL) was given the green light to dispose of the land as it saw best fit.
ACPL, which then merged with the Waterfront Development agency to become Panuku, has a list of objectives to pick and choose from - delivering land sales proceeds into council coffers, encouraging high quality developments, and in some cases enabling community housing.
Mr Goff argued that affordable housing was more appropriate in cheaper areas. ACPL and Panuku have sold land - sometimes difficult sites - for such schemes in Avondale and Papatoetoe.
In each case, the land has been sold at market rates, not involving a council subsidy.
In the Mt Eden case, Panuku has decided against any component meeting the affordable housing objective.
"We have different strategic objectives, and the key priorities here will be value for ratepayers, and getting good design, using the site in a way that promotes more intensive development," said chief operating officer David Rankin.
Panuku is seeking resource consent for its proposed mix of shops and 102 apartments and would then sell the site as ready-to-build, to a developer.
In the four years that Panuku's been pondering how to make the most of the site, Auckland's housing shortage has worsened, and has become a much hotter political issue.
Panuku's initial application for resource consent had gone to the council's hearings committee, in the final month of the council's second term, in October last year.
Mr Goff was happy with Panuku's work on the Mt Eden site.
Asked by RNZ whether councillors needed to be more closely involved, Mr Goff said the CCO arrangement meant he could not have interfered.
"The concept of the CCO was put into legislation to keep elected representatives more at arm's length on operational matters," he said.
"We can direct them on policy overall but not interfere on a day-to-day basis."
"Site by site, and with the day-to-day operations of Panuku it's beyond my remit and beyond what I'm able to do under legislation," Mr Goff said.
He said affordable housing was best achieved on the larger sites owned by Housing New Zealand in Auckland.
Panuku is negotiating with iwi and community housing providers over another significant site at Barrowcliffe Terrace in Manukau, but has also faced criticism over the price it hopes to achieve.
Panuku's plans for Mt Eden hinge on getting planning approval for a site in which it marginally exceeds the allowable height limits, and touches on heritage criteria in the area.
Public submissions on the planning aspects closed last Friday.