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The Herald has an enlightened editorial on housing

It’s not often that we almost completely agree with a Herald editorial, in fact just last week I rubbished the editorial on another harbour crossing. This one however is different. The first few paragraphs talks about Labour’s recently announced housing policy, along with some of the political reaction to it. However it is the second half of the editorial that made me almost fall off my chair.

Mr Shearer, while making the most of the party’s “KiwiBuild” scheme, wisely reduced its aims somewhat. The only homes it could provide in Auckland for under $300,000 would be two-bedroom apartments or terraced houses, he said. Labour’s standalone family homes were more likely to be up to $550,000.

It sounds like Labour has more of the latter in mind than the apartments and terraces. If so, the party should think again. The standalone family home with its lawn, driveway, garage, rotary clothesline and garden shed is still regarded as a New Zealand birthright but it exists these days more in fond imagination than in fact.

Many, perhaps most, home-owners are dispensing with the lawns and gardens, concreting them over for parking space for the two or three cars family members might own. Double garages are the norm, and families find more use for decks, patios and pools than grass and soil.

Growing children do not seem to miss the backyards of yesteryear, their preferred activities are on computer screens, digital devices, television or scooters and skateboards on the concrete outside.

Children in families that cannot afford today’s big houses and pools and home entertainment, nevertheless share the modern preferences. They are unlikely to play games on a lawn, and their parents are unlikely to garden, if they had the space. They can afford scooters for the children, and some digital equipment, and supermarkets made gardens superfluous long ago.

So why not two-bedroom apartments and terraced housing? If Labour can provide these in Auckland for no more than $300,000, they could provide struggling young families with a perfectly ample first home.

Apartments and terraced housing for the less well-off might sound like the “projects” that for all their sensitive planning, rapidly became urban ghettos in big cities overseas. But those were rental accommodation, Labour is proposing only homes for sale. If all units in its proposed developments were owner-occupied there is every reason to expect the homes would be well maintained, retain their value and let the young mortgagors build equity.

Their Kiwi dream is the same as it has always been: a home of their own, a stake in a community, a place to raise children. Low-cost units can give them it all.

“Wow” was the first word that popped into my head, and I actually had to double check that it was the herald that I was reading. For too long the debate about housing seems to have been framed as either forcing people to live in shoeboxes in the CBD or living in mansions on the edge of town. It’s nice to see some more in depth thinking going on in the herald that the issue is more nuanced than that. What we are starting to see is a generational shift occurring as young people increasingly want to live in locations that have good amenities and that are closer to the city. People are generally quite good at making compromises, like the size of their backyard (or if they need one at all), if it means they can get benefits in other ways. As an example, people might be much more willing to give up on having a larger home and backyard if it means that their local shops/bar/park/transport stop are within a short walk compared to having to drive everywhere.

Perhaps if I had to give any criticism at all, the editorial doesn’t mention anything about location. If we build these apartments or terraced houses in the right locations, the increase in density can also benefit existing communities.  More people in an area can help to justify new business (increasing local amenities), it can justify more or better quality local parks, and can help justify better provision of public transport. However, considering where the Herald has come from in the past I’m inclined to let it slide for now though as at least they are showing some progress. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait for years for another quality Herald housing editorial.

39 comments to The Herald has an enlightened editorial on housing

  • A very pleasant surprise, now for them to really show that they understand the economy of cities let’s see them publish an editorial pointing out that transport costs are indivisible from housing affordability. That you can’t solve the later without addressing the former…. And the former cannot be addressed in urban areas by only investing in one mode, especially if that mode is also the single most expensive one: The private car.

  • I almost spat out my cuppa reading this one.

    Perhaps a more important point that is still glossed over is the fact that over half of Auckland’s households have only one or two people in them. That means that over half Auckland’s households don’t need more than two bedrooms (and even then that is a bit of a luxury, most two person households would be a couple, which means the majority would still have an empty spare bedroom at their disposal).

    Makes you wonder why we only every build 300m2 four/five bedroom homes, then claim the city has a housing affordability crisis. Well duh!

  • Harvey Specter

    While the article is good, there are some issues with it.

    Just because kids prefer the computer screen, it doesn’t mean they dont need to get outside. If section sizes are going to be small, then we need more parks – maybe sell one less section per block and put a park on it with bigger parks for sports.

    Looking at the Hobsonville plan, if you exclude the schools, there is pretty much no parks for playing in. The one ‘award winning’ playground would struggle if 30 kids turned up at it, and that is for a development of how many homes???

    • Yep, I did suggest that more people should help in justifying more and better quality parks. As for Hobsonville, there appear to be a number of small parks dotted around the place.

      • Ben S

        Parks aside, if this development had some local transport – i.e. a ring of light rail – it would actually work. Otherwise anyone further that a coupla hundred metres any from another point in the local area they want to go to, will jump in their car and drive…

        What hope do we have of loosening the death-grip of car-based culture if it doesn’t start in developments like this one?

        • That is why the development company has paid quite a bit to get the ferry wharf built and services set up. I don’t see what a tram would do that much better in this situation compared to higher frequency and low emissions (perhaps electric) buses.

          • Ben S

            I was talking about local area transport – but the ferry terminal is certainly a good thing.

            I guess the only downside is that many locals will no doubt mostly drive – or be dropped off – in their cars at the terminal.

            I’ve outlined the case of light rail v. buses elsewhere on this blog. To me, it’s a no-contest in favour of light rail.

        • Sam

          One of the first things I noticed about this development is that it’s very walkable Compared to what we have been getting around Auckland recently. It’s not filled with cul-de-sacs, and All parts of the development seem within walking distance of a quite direct main road/bus route

    • I agree that parks are critical in that case, but I’m not sure if we will need more. Auckland is covered in parks we have a shedload compared to some cities. Between formal parks, playing fields, larger reserves, volcanic cones and beaches/bays/streams, Auckland has masses of greenspace. I’d go as far as to say that, apart from certain beaches on sunny days, most of it is almost empty most of the time. Half the time I could swap jogging in the domain for skeet shooting and no one would be bothered.

      That’s another good benefit of what Matt is alluding to with getting those new homes in the right locations. If we stick them out on the fringe we’re obliged to build new parks and reserves to go with them. If we put them in underused corridors in the inner and middle suburbs then we just end up with out existing parks getting some reasonable usage.

      • Harvey Specter

        I’m not referring to big parks. I mean little ones so that you can walk your under 5 there for a quick swing. And close enough so you can let your 7yo go play their with their friends unsupervised.

        If you are replacing 10 yards with 20 additional houses, a small park to compensate for no yards for any of the 30 houses seems fair. Being just 3km away (30m walk) from a big park is no conciliation.

        • That’s exactly the sort I was talking about, there are little local parks and reserves in every neighbourhood and most are hardly used. The mention of the Domain is that it happens to be one of the local parks to where I live, so it’s the one I used the most.

  • Well if we occupied Ak at the density of Hong Kong the city’s entire population would fit on half of Waiheke Island so then the whole isthmus [and the other half of Waiheke] could be total virginal forrest, or swings and slides, or farmland or what ever. You want more green space? Support intensification!

    • Greg N

      Patrick,
      I agree with Harvey.

      If we wanted that sort of density in HK we’d all have moved to Hong Kong by now. So take it as read, as a matter of choice, those here don’t aspire to that level of intensification anytime soon.
      That doesn’t mean intensification is a bad idea – its not,

      But even if we did crowd everyone into a Waiheke sized piece of land surrounded by green forests etc etc, it would still be a major expedition for the residents to actually go and use most of it – for those residents in the “Kowloon Walled Garden”. How many folks go to the Waitakere Ranges regularly (who don’t actually live there) – why don’t they- too hard, too far away, too damn invonvenient, full stop.

      Whats needed is properly sized local amenities – not one or two grand Central Parks NYC Style for everyone to aspire to live near to, who can’t possibly afford to.
      Doing that is just moving the urban edge we rail so much against into the city centre, but not solving the issue.

      And Nick R having green spaces that are not used a lot is not “wasteful” per-se as you suggest Nick, They provide more than a recreational area for humans, they help provide the lungs of the city and break up the urban form. If you want to cover the land with apartments and high rise buildings, where is the space for the trees if not in local green spaces?

      Too many of the green spaces in places are usually just grassed areas with no mature trees, so no shelter from the sun or rain, not really an amenity at all really.
      Maybe flat strips of grass are easy to mow, but they don’t actually enhance the environment that much do they?

      • Harvey Specter

        An example of a small playground I drop past yesterday. No kids there at the time but I am sure if you increased the housing density 2x or 3x, there would have been.

        Ellislie: http://goo.gl/maps/r9HdR

        Another example in Chatswood : http://goo.gl/maps/DrhjS

        • “An example of a small playground I drop past yesterday. No kids there at the time but I am sure if you increased the housing density 2x or 3x, there would have been.”

          My point exactly. If we intensify some neighbourhoods we’re not going to run into a shortage of playgrounds and parks because most of them are very lightly used at the moment.

          • Harvey Specter

            But each of those surrounding houses had a front and a back yard so there is no need to go to the park. Put in terraced housing and that changes.

            All I am saying is that the developers/council needs to remember to get these parks put in when they put in the new developments.

            Another example: http://goo.gl/maps/JflX2 Satellite photos are out of date as there are lots more of these small parks in the new/southern end of the development. Despite the beach and the reasonable amount of parkland, these small playgrounds are used. Kids run wild like feral cats (Gareth Morgan would be aghast!) even though most (all?) of the houses being on 600m2 or more. That 3km of development probably has 5 or 6 playgrounds.

          • Having a backyard doesn’t guarantee that the kids would prefer to play in it compared to playing in a park.

          • Again that is true Harvey, all I’m saying is that we have the capacity in our parks and playgrounds to absorb a lot of change. Agreed they need them to go in with new developments, particularly greenfields on the fringe but also any intensification where there is a localised lack of green space. However overall we have stacks of parks and reserves that could handle a lot more people before they start to feel crowded.

        • Bryce P

          The Ellerslie example has no seating and the Chatswood example has a single seat and no shade trees. Both could be transformed very easily into ‘places’. Get rid of the fencing as well (Ellerslie) or at least make it a bit more organic. As for kids using parks compared to the back yard, think back to when you were a kid. Did you spend most of your time roaming or in the backyard? I think backyards are things that parents like to think kids want but really most kids a social beasts and would rather run around, explore etc, at the park with other kids. Remember cricket on the road? the grown ups have made that virtually impossible through the dedication to the motor vehicle and build playgrounds to appease the kids. Those gym type playgrounds appeal to mums with young kids but the older kids (5+) tend to be a bit more adventurous.

          • Bryce P

            And tables so people can have lunch. Heck, use $200 BBQ tables. They’re cheap and biodegradable. I know they will get damaged but even the really expensive stainless street furniture gets damaged. You could probably buy 10 BBQ tables for the price of a single ss bench seat.

          • Greg N

            You know Bryce, that Ellerslie place iin Celtic Cres. I’ve parked right near it when I go to the Mexican place nearby.
            I always thought it was either someones front yard or part of the Kindergarten over the road as it was so, so, umm, orderly (and unused/sterile)

            As for Stainless Steel BBQ Tables, they will not just get damaged, they’ll get nicked for the value of the metal in them, so yeah, wood is probably best.

      • Come on Greg you surely understand the rhetorical device at work there? I am not seriously suggesting we rebuild AK at HK densities on Waiheke but showing with an extreme example that with a little more bunching we can order our land use differently. The problem with almost all these debates is status quo bias: different is not only possible and desirable but also necessary.

        I know there are a lot of proudly self described numeric types on this site and that’s grand, but we do need to use our imaginations too.

        • Greg N

          Patrick,
          Of course, I understand your rhetoric device – you actually only wanted it a little crowded, like say, Singapore, not HK right?
          So you posit the worst case and know we’ll then accept something less worse as a welcome “compromise”.

          Bit like those property developers who put put up the ugly monstrous plan up front, so that once everyone throws their hands up in horror.
          And they can switch it out with what they really wanted to do in the first place and we all go “ooh, thats much better, where do we sign off on it?”.

          The problem is the folks here not having enough imagination, its often them having an over-active imagination, so they can see the likely end results a little too clearly.

          BTW: Your example of squeezing everything in one place using high rises, was EXACTLY how the UK Government suckered the UK population into accepting the high rise “estates” everywhere
          The argument being that a post-WWII Britain couldn’t have terracced houses everywhere as it would cover all the land, so there would be no green space.
          So what happened, well they built the high rises and left the land around it empty, then over time they filled it the gaps, with you guessed it, more terraced houses.

          So you ended up with the worst outcome – no green space and lots of eyesore ugly highrises and urban sprawl for Africa to boot.
          The very thing that the UK population was told it could prevent.

          My point is that the parks have to be mostly local to be useful and used. With some big parks as well – such as The Domain and One Tree Hill type parks
          – we need both types not just one or t’other

          We can’t just have plans for few local parks with the real parks “somewhere else” to make up for it. which is too often the kinds of plans many of the developers put up
          As they all know that too many parks and trees will get in the way of, well, the houses and the roads

          Another point is that too often council staff equate like “open space”, with “no trees” and organised sports along the lines of grass areas with sports fields, so that they can say, well “we can’t plant trees there as we couldn’t put a kids soccer pitch there if we did”. So they put a soccer pitch in, used what 2-3 times a day, once or twice a week, for what 2 teams of kids each time,
          Whats that, maybe 120 kids in total will “actively” use the place in weekends (by then the ground is so buggered it needs a weeks rest to recover!).

          But if it was, instead say mostly a park with some big trees and amenities and informal recreation areas – well whole families could use it, every day, heck even just the local kids using every day before and after school would over a week equate to more hours of “passive” recreation than the weekends worth of “organised” recreation on it.

          It seems to me that in many cases parents (and council staff, local boards, and developers) seem to equate active use as “good” and passive use as “bad”.
          When the latter is often of better quality for society as a whole, but you need both types, and to cater for both and not one type only.

  • Tweeted today this lovely example of the kind of medium density housing Auckland could offer http://www.dezeen.com/2013/01/30/south-chase-housing-by-alison-brooks-architects/

    Surely Auckland’s housing problem is not so much a lack of stock but a lack of variety in the stock.

    • The Coronation Street theme song is already playing in my head! :-)

    • Greg N

      Just right for Mum and Dad and their 2.4 kids, and even room for 2.4 Cars outside each one as well!

      Could lose half the car spaces first up, then join up the houses to make them more efficient in land use.

    • tuktuk

      (Oops, meant to post that comment in reponse to this link here provided by Decanker – http://www.dezeen.com/2013/01/30/south-chase-housing-by-alison-brooks-architects/ )

      Thankyou for sharing that link. I would be interested in the resulting density of such a development…..perhaps similar to that density in our traditional “tramway” streets – eg Ponsonby. On the face of it, this scheme looks very appealing offering good light in summer and winter for house and yard. The scheme also offers good space options for families, couples, singles and appears to have the makings of a well designed, well-built and durable development. The shapes themselves look appealing within a New Zealand context.

      Very un-Coronation Street, or Glebe (Sydney) but potentially a good package to suit Auckland’s cultural, political and physical environment including that temperate climate. Main possible variation I can see if perhaps a slightly different exterior colour pallette to suit different parts of Auckland, and to provide some further variation within each development.

      Have you sent the link to David Shearer? Perhaps Alison Brooks Architects, David Shearer and potential future NZ construction companies need to be talking to each other.

  • Today the Herald kindly ran my letter on the subject however they removed the sentence about transport options so here’s the original:


    Thank-you for the realism of today’s editorial.

    The facts on the ground in Auckland show that anyone serious about housing affordability must be in favour of more intensive models on well connected sites; terrace houses and apartments within existing city limits served well by transport and other infrastructure. These types are the only affordable dwellings that can be built in Auckland today. There is simply no other way to provide sub 300k or 400k dwellings, especially ones with transport options that can be met along with loan repayments.

    These homes offer options for those happy to accept smaller dwellings in order to be able to live in more central and connected locations. Locations for which the market consistently shows strong demand yet cannot to meet with new exurban suburbs. The price spread shows that Auckland is already well supplied with detached houses on outer suburban sites.

    Therefore anyone who claims that the housing affordability problem can be addressed by expanding the opportunity to build yet more large houses on distant farmland has either only a passing understanding of the facts or is not really interested in this problem but rather is using it to achieve some other end.

  • correction

    If there really was such a large demand for small apartments, why is it that the current stock of small apartments are in such low demand and still not classed as a good investment in comparison to separate housing.

    • Mr Anderson

      What makes you think there’s low demand for small apartments? And also what makes you think that we’re just talking about “small” apartments?

    • I didn’t say small apartments, I said smaller dwellings than detached 4 bedroom two garage houses. The apartment market going fine in AK, except of course for crappy leaky badly built ones in poor locations, including those that are ludicrously [and cynically] small.

      And this is despite the fact that banks make it extremely difficult to borrow for anything other than detached houses, demanding higher deposits etc.

      If not then why are developers building new ones? Kindness?

  • tuktuk

    Thankyou for sharing that link. I would be interested in the resulting density of such a development…..perhaps similar to that density in our traditional “tramway” streets – eg Ponsonby. On the face of it, this scheme looks very appealing offering good light in summer and winter for house and yard. The scheme also offers good space options for families, couples, singles and appears to have the makings of a well designed, well-built and durable development. The shapes themselves look appealing within a New Zealand context.

    Very un-Coronation Street, or Glebe (Sydney) but potentially a good package to suit Auckland’s cultural, political and physical environment including that temperate climate. Main possible variation I can see if perhaps a slightly different exterior colour pallette to suit different parts of Auckland, and to provide some further variation within each development.

    Have you sent the link to David Shearer? Perhaps Alison Brooks Architects, David Shearer and potential future NZ construction companies need to be talking to each other.

  • correction

    If your looking at spending $300k you have little choice but to get a small apartment. The low demand is evident buy the history of apartments depreciating hence why banks don’t like to lend on them.

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