Editorial: House in order

by The Listener / 02 June, 2016
"The growing numbers of Aucklanders living in vehicles and garages suggests a whole new layer of dysfunction."
Photo/Getty Images
Photo/Getty Images

The writing’s on the wall for local authorities over housing supply – and this time it’s not just the graffiti of central government bluster that can be cleaned off and disregarded.

We now have a grand coalition in favour of greenfields housing development, with Labour joining the Government in backing the abolition of Auckland’s urban limits and forcing the council to consent to more home building.

Auckland is going to spread whether its council likes it or not. That almost certainly goes for other territories facing housing shortages and overpricing. The tacit message here is, if councils continue to block or delay the freeing up of new land for housing, the Government will legislate to force them, with the full support of the lead Opposition party.

For those who cry democracy, national democracy will trump local democracy every time, and for good reason. The housing price bubble that both besets and enchants Aucklanders is now spreading to other centres, and is a risk to the entire economy. It would be irresponsible of Parliament not to consider intervention, A. to house more people and sooner, and B. to avert a potentially disastrous property price crash.

For those rightly worried that councils cannot afford to extend infrastructure to service urban sprawl, Labour has the beginnings of an answer. Instead of landing developers and buyers with the full cost of new infrastructure up-front – thus perpetuating the unaffordability cycle – the cost could be smoothed out through the issuing of muni­cipal bonds. Used extensively overseas, this system means home owners pay much of the infrastructure debt back over time, effectively as an extra rating impost. The effect would have to be calibrated carefully so the rates in themselves did not make the new housing unaffordable. But the bonds could be a useful alternative for investors in these times of low interest rates.

Numerous other factors need consideration, such as the role of future public transport, including the feasibility of rapid rail to enable satellite city commuting. The horticultural sector is justifiably worried some of the most productive land outside Auckland will be gobbled up for housing, to the detriment of livelihoods, export earnings and the globally precious capacity for food production. And despite the Government’s intransigence on the issue, immigration flows and non-domiciled property investment need a rethink.

But this rare consensus between Labour and National is a promising start to creating a managed transition from Auckland’s housing madness. Greenfields development will not, however, help at the crisis end of the affordability issue. The apparently growing numbers of Aucklanders living in vehicles and garages suggests a whole new layer of dysfunction. People resort to such desperate measures for sundry reasons. Some are deeply in debt to loan sharks, and while usurious lending is being outlawed under new consumer finance legislation, there’s a long tail of victims. It’s probable some of those living in their car are there because of indebtedness on that very car.

In other cases, immigrants from developing countries choose to live in the cheapest possible accommodation to accrue capital. Sometimes a garage here is better than the home they left was. There is even anecdotal evidence of people occupying the garages of homes with the right postal address to access preferred school zones.

Whatever the cause, this is not a resort or a choice New Zealanders find acceptable. Overcrowding and poor housing have disastrous health, education and social consequences. Many such tenancies will be dangerous and downright illegal, were any authorities to police them. We are simply desperately short of emergency housing. This is more acute since Government agencies and councils responded perhaps over-stringently to the earthquake preparedness drive. The laudable goal of keeping low-income tenants safe has resulted in some surely needless write-offs of state and council housing.

The Government has had 18 months to back its “social investment” policy rhetoric about the superior, wrap-around social services to be offered to the vulnerable and low-income by private housing providers. Demonstrably, there are not enough of them and the Government needs to think of something else in quick order. Further housing measures were likely to be a ­talking point of the Budget, which was being delivered as we went to press.

It’s also vital that greenfields development complements, but does not replace, councils’ urban densification push. The latter has been a prime culprit for price pressure, but it’s still a vital part of the answer to our pernicious housing shortage.

Follow the Listener on Twitter or Facebook.


Housing NZ to reimburse hundreds evicted on flawed meth testing
96594 2018-09-20 10:03:55Z Politics

Housing NZ to reimburse hundreds evicted on flawed…

by Jo Moir

Housing NZ has committed to compensating hundreds of tenants it evicted from state homes based on bogus meth testing, some of whom were made homeless.

Read more
Shortland Street is turning into a metaphor for the Trump White House
96588 2018-09-20 09:27:11Z Television

Shortland Street is turning into a metaphor for th…

by Diana Wichtel

An extra night of Shortland Street won’t change the psycho storylines or the mad characters who act without consequence.

Read more
Why GE grass will be the next divisive issue for the coalition Government
96475 2018-09-20 00:00:00Z Politics

Why GE grass will be the next divisive issue for t…

by Jane Clifton

As the Government gropes all over in reports and reviews for answers, it looks like GE grass may not be one.

Read more
Funny Girls gets serious about suffrage in new comedy special
96571 2018-09-20 00:00:00Z Television

Funny Girls gets serious about suffrage in new com…

by Russell Brown

A comedy special with the Funny Girls sheds light on New Zealand women’s historic winning of the right to vote.

Read more
How to ease symptoms of IBS and endometriosis with the right diet
96373 2018-09-20 00:00:00Z Nutrition

How to ease symptoms of IBS and endometriosis with…

by Jennifer Bowden

Diets low in fodmaps are a saviour for people with irritable bowel syndrome and endometriosis, helping to manage the gastrointestinal symptoms.

Read more
The web browsers’ war on user tracking
96529 2018-09-19 13:01:40Z Tech

The web browsers’ war on user tracking

by Peter Griffin

The reach of tech giants Facebook and Google goes well beyond their own websites to capture your web browsing. So how can you stop them tracking you?

Read more
Emails between Clare Curran and Derek Handley to be revealed
96499 2018-09-19 08:04:02Z Politics

Emails between Clare Curran and Derek Handley to b…

by Gia Garrick

Copies of former minister Clare Curran's personal emails to tech entrepreneur Derek Handley are expected to be released to Parliament this afternoon.

Read more
Suffrage 125th: We're not there yet, but with each generation we get closer
96160 2018-09-19 00:00:00Z Social issues

Suffrage 125th: We're not there yet, but with each…

by Genevieve O’Halloran

It's 125 years since women got the vote, but full equality eludes us. The motherhood penalty curtails careers and the gender pay gap remains.

Read more