Choice bro

Occasionally I get a dose of status quo bizarro talk from my in-laws who filter it from talk radio. It usually comes in the form of generalisations presented as facts: “Kiwis don’t want to live in apartments”, “Kiwis want a big backyard to BBQ”, etc. As an immigrant living in this highly diverse and tolerant city I find suggestions that Kiwis are somehow different amusing.

Anecdotally, and perhaps this as this as reductivist as talk radio, but many of my professional peers would be happy living in an apartment close to the city centre if that meant they could leave their flatting-in-an-a crappy-bungalow at 35 years old days behind them. For many of them a long daily commute from the hinterland is not an option.

It’s peculiar that in this housing debate it is rarely mentioned (beyond this blog) that there is a huge pent up demand for walkable urban housing. Admittedly, my observations tend to be one-sided, but it’s hard to avoid the firehose of data making the same conclusions. Here’s a recent one I bookmarked from Ontario, Canada, via the Vancouver Sun.

The results of a recent Ontario study found that if home prices were not a factor, more than 80 per cent of home-buyers would give up a large house and yard and a long commute for a smaller house on a modest lot, a townhouse or a condo in an inner-city or suburban location that is walkable to stores, restaurants and other amenities and has good access to frequent rapid transit.

Without the hard demographic facts in front of me, I think the trends are similar here as to the US, Canada, and Australia where family formation is being delayed, family size is decreasing and there is a huge increase in single-person  ‘households’. In the recent housing affordability report by the McKell Institute documented by TimR there was an interesting mention of a study into the housing people actually wanted in Sydney, called The Housing We’d Choose.

The recent Grattan Institute Report, The Housing We’d Choose (2011), surveyed more than 700 residents of Sydney and Melbourne to discover their housing preferences, taking into account realities such as current housing costs and their income. The survey revealed a mismatch between the housing we want and the stock we have. In particular, it highlighted a large shortage of semi-detached homes and apartments in the middle and outer areas of both Melbourne and Sydney.

The study used a trade-off method of analysis and concluded that even if attached housing was 30% higher there still would be a significant disconnect with the demand versus the actual housing stock available.

I’m curious if any similar reports have been conducted in Auckland. There was a short mention in the Productivity Commission Report on housing preferences but it was New Zealand-wide, hardly relevant for Auckland specifically:

Research commissioned by the Council for Housing Research Aotearoa New Zealand, found that while younger people in non-family households tend to favour central city locations, family households tend to favour suburbs and town centres, and older families and post-family households tend to want to remain in their established neighbourhood.

Finally, here is a great video of Christopher Leinberger, the developer/scholar/consultant who identified the massive disconnect between the demand for “walkable urbanism” in the United States and what the industry keeps churning out. The world Leinberger is describing is the one I want to live in, but perhaps my views will change next week when I officially become a “Kiwi”.