A few things happened after I announced my desire to facilitate political consensus to solve Auckland’s housing crisis (which may or may not have been related).
Prime Minister John Key who lives in a flash house in Parnell denied there was a housing crisis. Affordable Auckland’s mayoral candidate Stephen Berry (surely you have heard of them / him? No??) said I was only thinking about my mayoral candidacy. The Salvation Army (god bless them) supported me while acknowledging consensus would be difficult to achieve. Labour Party housing spokesperson Phil Twyford dismissed the idea outright with an audible snort indicating he would not be prepared to help ‘the other side’ sort things out. The Reserve Bank warned the government it needed to do more to dampen demand in the face of increasing housing pressures. And the chief human rights commissioner agreed a cross-party accord should be established to tackle the very serious issues of adequate housing.
Several journalists couldn’t resist comment. The Royal New Zealand Herald’s columnist Brian Rudman opined I was “disowning my political trade” by wanting to separate the housing issue from scoring political points. More helpfully, Fran O’Sullivan directed the government to sit up, take notice and then act. Bernard Hickey said the government and Auckland Council needed to consider more aggressive measures than simply freeing up land for housing.
It seemed like everyone had an opinion, and in expressing those opinions most of them ironically couldn’t go past trying to score a few political points of their own.
So a big thank you to Bomber for this opportunity to expand on my thinking – without all the shouting.
I don’t pretend to know all the answers to the housing crisis but I do know we are having one. We need to ensure housing is taken seriously and that we have a resilient long-term approach. This issue is too important to leave to the ‘left’ and ‘right’ factions of old-fashioned political parties. We need to be able to talk about the real issues without fear of walking off the party line. And we need to look at the barriers to home ownership at all levels – the shortage of rental and affordable homes, the building cost blow outs and the challenges to our community housing sector in picking up often run-down homes from the government sell off of state homes. One would have to ask why this ideological initiative is occurring in the midst of a housing crisis.
To even start to think about all of that we absolutely must have a safe space in which we can openly discuss ideas and plans.
Despite all the critics, Housing New Zealand is doing good work, desperately trying to unlock the value of its landholdings to build more homes. But with no government ring-fenced money we risk going backward on our social housing numbers.
We have extraordinary community housing providers, well placed to run social housing, but imagine if we had an easier pathway to transfer ownership to them without putting our most vulnerable people at risk.
We have our Special Housing Areas but imagine if we could get houses built faster by getting government to unlock the funding for the critical infrastructure to service those areas. We are standing up for Auckland and the government must do its bit.
The government is trying to address the funding available to first home buyers but image if we changed the rental top up given to landlords – which must add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year – into a direct mortgage assistance programme.
Imagine if we could find a better way to ensure long-term rental security and income for landlords and have social housing welcomed into communities.
Auckland Council’s response to the crisis to date has been collaborative development, strong advocacy for the early uptake of the new proposed Unitary Plan provisions and starting a forward land and infrastructure programme. That work has been going on since amalgamation and we are making good progress.
We are also in the process of establishing a new urban development agency – Development Auckland – which will partner with others to address some of these issues, especially fragmented land ownership. We have also approved new initiatives such as a housing bond guarantee which will enable community housing providers to access funding at lower interest rates.
But we need to do more.
To say Aucklanders don’t want to live in apartments is completely incorrect. Aucklanders are embracing the thought of a compact city where going up, as well as out, is a good option with many advantages. And while the NIMBYs cry foul in that regard I agree with Hickey – let’s defy them and say no, they can’t control politics in this city or this city’s growth.
Our Unitary Plan will help with that, a number of developers are doing excellent work on apartments and we need to ensure more come out of the ground – and quickly.
And there are other options. Imagine if we could innovate with the private sector and take up the offer from Advantage New Zealand to build prefab housing. Proposals that can speed up the construction of quality, cost-effective homes have my total support.
Warm, dry, safe housing is a human right and we cannot make this an issue over which political points are scored. It’s real and it’s here now. It needs to be dealt with. And I am trying to figure out how best we deal with it. I am sure our communities, social and business, have some great ideas.
Let’s challenge ourselves to get those great ideas on the table, put some into action and see what works. If something works, we can do more of it. If it doesn’t we can figure out other solutions. This isn’t about money. It’s about letting good ideas be tried out on the ground and collaborating not politicking. Let’s give it a go.
Penny Hulse is the Deputy Mayor of Auckland