I get pissed off at housing affordability debates a lot of the time. There’s just something slightly nauseating about right-wing commentators who usually couldn’t give a stuff about poor people suddenly caring a great deal about housing affordability because they think it’s a way to do away with pesky planning controls like urban limits and make an absolute killing out of that speculative land they bought on the urban periphery a while back. Equally, left-wing commentators who think that borrowing zillions of dollars to build a crap load of state housing will solve everything also need something of a reality check.
Yesterday the NZ Herald reported that the government isn’t too far away from releasing its response to a typically ideological report on housing affordability, prepared by the Productivity Commission. While the Commission’s report focused on the supposed need to allow more urban sprawl, the government isn’t giving away much around what its thoughts on the report might be:
Mr English told Parliament today “housing affordability remains a deep-seated, complex and serious problem,” and the Government would respond to a Productivity Commission call to tackle the problem.
The Government response to the Productivity Commission report will be approved by Cabinet before the end of the month.
He said said a multi-pronged work programme will be issued in response to the report.
The Productivity Commission called for more land to be opened up for housing in urban areas.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown has said the Council has the land available to build 18,000 houses in Auckland.
He was seeking a partnership with Government to provide capital to building the houses.
Mr English said the Government were working with the Tamaki redevelopment but were not likely to be able to stump up capital to fund housing.
The report proposed improvements to building consent processes to speed up service and reduce costs; improvements in the way local council development charges for infrastructure are calculated and applied, and improvements in the construction sector.
The fact that there are 18,000 vacant lots available on the urban periphery which nobody is taking up is a very interesting indication of perhaps that not being what people actually want anymore. As this recent post noted, property prices has grown most strongly on the isthmus in the last few years – in the inner suburbs with good access to public transport, amenities and a more urban lifestyle. Plus most houses built on the periphery in the last decade have been giant McMansions selling for big bucks, whereas the actual problem is a chronic shortage of relatively cheap new houses being built:
“Despite demand for low cost houses, relatively few are being built – in part because of the very high cost of land, particularly in Auckland,” said Mr English.
Over the course of a number of previous posts on this blog we have highlighted a number of ways in which housing affordability can be improved in a real way, not just a way that subsidises sprawl and shifts the cost from housing to transport. These include:
- Getting rid of completely stupid minimum parking requirements
- Allowing the construction of small, but clever, units
- Learning from Vancouver and making it easier to build apartments and other attached housing typologies
- Getting rid of density limits in the upcoming Unitary Plan
- Focusing much more on “middle density” housing, such as terraces or other small-scale intensification methods
Essentially all of these boil down to one major point – we’ve got to make intensification easier. That doesn’t mean getting more of the crap that’s been built over the past decade or two, but it means focusing on controlling what is important and letting go of what isn’t. People care about things like height, sunlight controls and the environment cares about things like permeable surface coverage. So leave your rules at just those – the bare minimum. Any density controls for urban areas just destroy opportunities to provide affordable housing, yard setback requirements ignore much of the best housing typologies being located right on the street and the myriad of other rules and regulations seem to create more problems than they’re worth.
The Unitary Plan engagement process has begun, with civic forums and we all look forward to seeing a first draft of the Plan in March next year. If you care about improving housing affordability the one thing you’ll be wanting out of the Unitary Plan is comfort that it’s going to make intensification easier. Sure the NIMBYs will scream, but unless we want to pave from here to Hamilton, we’ve simply got to make it easier to “grow in”.
That would be something constructive to improve housing affordability. Far more constructive than opening up more land in areas people don’t want to live.