Housing affordability

Bill English announced:

  • Increasing land supply – this will include more greenfields and brownfields developments and allow further densification of cities, where appropriate.
  • Reducing delays and costs of RMA processes associated withhousing – this includes introducing a six-month time limit on council processing of medium-sized consents.
  • Improving the timely provision of infrastructure to support new housing – this will include considering new ways to co-ordinate and manage infrastructure for subdivisions.
  • Improving productivity in the construction sector – this includes an evaluation of the Productivity Partnership’s progress in achieving a 20 per cent increase in productivity by 2020.

Increasing land supply is key – especially in Auckland. There is a reasons is so much worse in Auckland than most other cities around the world. It is an artificial restriction on supply of land. And the impact on house prices is as predictable as the impact of gravity on apples.

The six month deadline for consenting of medium-sized constructions should also make a significant difference.

Labour and Greens are of course against the two major recommendations. They seem to think the answer to housing affordability is to have the Government build more homes, and everyone becomes a tenant of the state.

Not PC makes some very useful points:

The debate over affordable housing is already being framed as a debate between “sprawl” and “intensification”—a debate between those who wish to release (just a little) the planners’ ring-fences around NZ’s major cities to allow new homes on “greenfield” sections, versus those who insist we build with more intensity within the ring fence on so called “brownfield” sites.

The latter group characterise the former as being in favour of “sprawl”; the former characterise the latter as promoting the construction of the slums of tomorrow.

Both are right, and both are wrong.

What’s missing here is choice.  In talking about about development on either “greenfield” or “brownfield” sites, both advocates insist that folk do things their way. They completely ignore the fact that people have the right to choosewhere and how they live, particularly if they own the place on which they choose to settle down.

This is key. Those against increasing the urban limit are not just saying they don’t want to live further out – but they want to effectively ban others from doing the same.  They don’t want people to have choice – they want everyone in an inner city apartment.

Let people live where they wish to, as long as they bear the costs. And let those choices themselves—choices based on people’s own values for which they are prepared to pay the cost—organically reflect the way the city develops.

Exactly. If new suburbs are going to mean you need more public transport links out there, then make those who choose to live there pay for it. I suspect many will happily pay a but more for public transport if it means they can get their house for $50,000 cheaper.

The answer (with rare exceptions) is that for most bits of land in most NZ suburbs, all of the housing types listed above that make the least use of scarce urban land are allowed, and all those that help increase the number of housing units that can comfortably work in a city — and that are enormously popular overseas — almost all of these urban housing types are disallowed.

PC concludes:

We let them ring-fencethe city and stop people heading out and building away from the city when they want to —“sprawl!” is the all-too hysterical cry — and then we let them stop other people building higher density urban housing when they want to. Instead of leaving people free to choose, we have these boring “halfway houses” that some people like, but that many simply accept because that’s all that’s available, and they don’t know any better.

When there’s just so much available, so many great housing types  from which to choose, it just doesn’t make any sense.

“Sprawl” or “intensification”? That’s a false dichotomy. I say let people be free to choose.

That’s the path to genuinely liveable cities, and to affordability.

Hear hear.

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