The housing crisis is a multi-faceted problem engulfing both local and central government. Photo: Getty Images

Auckland’s housing taskforce has spoken: the city has many tasks to undertake on housing.

All the numbers for the Great Housing Crisis of 2017 are well known: the city needs an extra 14,000 homes a year, every year, for the next 30 years to cope with a population swelling by 45,000 more residents annually.

All the wider ‘supply’ problems are well known: limited land availability, slow and inflexible planning consents, limited public funding for housing-associated infrastructure like roads and drains, and lack of workers, competitive building supplies and certainty in the construction industry.

So Phil Goff’s Mayoral Housing Taskforce went looking not for the problems but solutions. It received a broad welcome from Prime Minister Bill English, whose only strong rejection was over its discussion of returning Aucklanders’ GST paid on rates back to Auckland.

Convened in February from the banking, building, design, economics and property sectors and Auckland Council itself, it spent five days in exhaustive workshops and produced a glossy 48-page report yesterday that aimed to remove impediments to mass building of affordable housing.

Its headline answers included:  

*  forming a plan to keep a “higher baseline of overall housing delivery across boom-bust cycles”  –  to keep on building in the down times as much as the good times

*  looking at ‘value capture’ targeted rates on areas or properties which benefit from re-zoning by the council or from publicly-funded infrastructure nearby

*  planning bigger, faster joint venture building programmes on publicly-owned land

*  using some of the government’s $1 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund money (kept separate from the council’s own books to avoid going into too much debt) to put in facilities in new housing areas

*  tidying up the Council’s consents system to have one-point of contact, senior staffers involved, and one code of practice

There were 31 recommendations in all, some grouped as tactical and some strategic, but only eight that could be argued to be definitive actions.

Once internal council operational matters were removed just four were left that included ‘doing words’ rather than “invite”, “encourage”, “investigate”, “update”, most of those dependent on other central government or sector entities.

A timeline at the end of the taskforce report shows that most of the 31 recommendations cannot be ‘scaling up’ until 2019-20 for construction industry improvements, 2020-21 for unlocking land with appropriate zoning and infrastructure and 2019-20 for efficient planning, consenting and risk management.

The housing crisis is a multi-faceted problem, built up over years and engulfing both local and central government, so solving it will indeed take time and will require consultation and collaboration.

Goff and the taskforce members who spoke at the report’s unveiling yesterday were in unison that there is no silver bullet. 

On the need for a plan for “building through the dips”, Goff made it clear that would require the Government to commit to building even when the economy was in a downturn. “In a small country like New Zealand, central government has in the past played a key role in this and today still needs to.”

On ‘value capture’ targeted rates Goff said: “It promotes the potential to use other sources of funding such as targeted rates on those realising windfall profits from rezoning and new infrastructure so they contribute to the cost of that infrastructure.”

On unlocking public land for housing faster, a taskforce economics member, Stuart Shepherd of Sapere Research, said it was important to open up those areas that would deliver “the most supply the soonest.”

On using the Housing Infrastructure Fund, the report says a special purpose vehicle would be formed to hold the separate new infrastructure finance from the Council’s existing balance sheet “which is under pressure”.  

“For this model to function well, the new entity will require the ability to raise revenue streams from development that it unlocks, as well as an equity provider to underwrite its borrowing.”

At his post-cabinet press conference, Bill English said Auckland Council had applied for all of the Housing Infrastructure Fund. “That means they are working closely with the Government now about the next set of investments that are going to bring housing supply forward, that are about roads and water.”

He believed the Council had the capacity for value capture rating. “That’s pretty tricky, I’m told, trying to calculate it. It’s great to see this report covering so much ground. I think it tells us they are having a pretty deep think both about what is going on, which is reflected in the report, and some of the newer things they want to test out.”

*  The editor of Newsroom Pro, Bernard Hickey, acted as facilitator for the taskforce’s multiple workshops and was part of the four person panel announcing its findings yesterday. He did not contribute to this report.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

Leave a comment