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.