You asked us to make the climate emergency, housing, health, and justice reform key election issues. Today, we share the third of the top five election questions, chosen by you – our readers – for the political leaders vying for your votes.
New Zealand housing: there’s not enough of it, it’s incredibly expensive, and what we have is often poor quality.
Little surprise then that housing constantly rates as a critical issue for Kiwi voters – it was the second-most popular theme out of the hundreds of questions pitched for party leaders by you, our Newsroom readers.
In 2017, concerns about the National government’s failure to acknowledge a housing crisis helped to propel Labour forwards in the polls.
But three years on, the Labour-led government has had its fair share of housing failures too: most notably, it has essentially abandoned its KiwiBuild programme to build 100,000 houses over 10 years, while the public housing waitlist has trebled during the coalition’s term in office.
There was some depressing news for those trying to get on the housing ladder in Treasury’s pre-election fiscal update: house prices appear immune to the general economic slump, with a forecast rise of 17 percent over the four-year period to 2023/24.
So how would our party leaders tackle the issue? Here’s what you asked (our third-most popular question as voted on by Newsroom readers) and how they answered:
How would you slow down the trend of rent and housing costs becoming a larger and larger proportion of the average person’s income?
TOP leader Geoff Simmons: TOP will tax housing the same as all other assets to reduce speculation and encourage investment in businesses that create jobs and exports. TOP will encourage quality affordable medium density housing around public and active transport networks in our towns and cities. We will fund Local Authorities to incentivise development, and provide the funding required to build infrastructure. TOP will free up the market for building supplies so that we can build better quality houses more cheaply. We will also support community providers who build affordable rental housing. We will manage immigration to ensure we can accommodate an increased population.
Labour leader Jacinda Ardern: I remember last term, watching as the National government refused to acknowledge the housing crisis, and also set about selling our state housing stock.
It will take time to turn around a housing crisis which the previous government made worse.
But we have made a good start, with law changes and programmes to encourage and fast track more supply, which will have a direct impact on costs.
Supply side is crucial. Labour will prioritise increasing the supply of public and transitional housing, and improve the health of rental properties. We have already invested in 1,000 additional transitional houses due by the end of 2020 and 6,400 public houses to be delivered by mid-2022.
Increasing supply is fundamental to lowering costs and we will continue to push through a programme that removes barriers to this because we believe all New Zealanders deserve warm, dry, healthy and affordable housing, including our progressive home ownership plans.
Labour will also strengthen the Tenancy Tribunal to make sure it is an effective tool for resolving tenancy disputes including rent increases to ensure that where a tenant believes their rent has increased beyond the “market” rents for similar properties in a similar condition in their area they can take a case to the Tenancy Tribunal.
We’ll make it easier for tenants to bring forward complaints with the help of renters’ organisations. We have also limited rent increases from every six months to once in 12 months to provide more certainty and stability for tenants.
National leader Judith Collins: New Zealand’s burdensome planning rules constrain the ability of houses to be built to match population growth.
In 2017, Labour announced that house prices could drop if the Government just built 100,000 KiwiBuild houses. After three years in government, Labour has only delivered 500 KiwiBuild houses, the median price of a house has increased 27 percent, rental costs have increased 15 percent and the social housing wait list has tripled.
National believes that we must address our burdensome planning rules if we are to address housing costs. We will scrap the RMA and ensure planning rules allow urban growth up and out. Overriding planning rules stabilised house prices in Christchurch following the Canterbury Earthquakes. This is the only way we can avoid another housing bubble as interest rates drop to record lows.
Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson: Successive governments haven’t tackled the structural factors causing housing unaffordability, including tax. The housing market lacks diversity, meaning many people are either forced into large, expensive suburban houses or cold, damp flats. We lack the institutional and non-profit housing investors and developers common in many countries.
The Green Party’s $400 million progressive home ownership fund is already helping people into homes in Auckland and Queenstown.
Our Homes for All Plan will clear the social housing waiting list within five years, and kick-start a non-profit rental sector with Crown underwrites for Community Housing Providers, including iwi, to build affordable homes.
ACT leader David Seymour: For decades, councils have tied new housing developments up in red tape and underinvested in infrastructure. New Zealanders must be free to build, and councils should be encouraged to invest in infrastructure, if we are to solve the housing crisis and achieve housing affordability.
ACT will replace the Resource Management Act with a law that lets people build without restrictive zoning such as the Metropolitan Urban Limit.
We’ll let councils issue targeted rates to pay for infrastructure for new housing developments.
We’ll get councils out of the building consent and inspection business and introduce mandatory private insurance for new housing.
Māori Party co-leaders John Tamihere and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer: It will require the Māori Party full Whānau Build policy setting to be adopted.
Taxing those that own more than one house, blocking foreigners from buying residential property and ensuring that the State re-enters building state housing on state land. Finally immigration must be curbed for five years. This will lower the price of housing and therefore lower the cost of renting.
Newsroom’s political editor Sam Sachdeva gives his assessment of the leaders’ answers:
Having spent its last three years in opposition hammering National relentlessly for its failure to tackle the housing crisis, Labour (and its coalition partners) have learnt quickly that finding a solution is not as easy as it may seem from the outside.
KiwiBuild seemed incredibly ambitious even before Labour won power, and it quickly became clear the Government and the construction sector did not have the capacity to deliver the houses at the scale, pace and price required. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t get a mention in Ardern’s answer, with the Prime Minister instead focusing on public housing where the Government has had more success. She also highlights its rental reforms which have been broadly popular with young Kiwis, although less so with property investors.
National and ACT both want to rip up the RMA and start again. That’s perhaps unsurprising given they’re right-wing parties, but a review commissioned by the current government has also suggested repeal and replacement, and significant change is both likely and necessary – although exactly what form any new legislation takes will depend on the parties (or party) in the next government.
The Greens, TOP and the Māori Party all want greater taxation on property, which could be a useful lever to pull – but any major movement on that front is unlikely under Labour, given Ardern’s pledge to never revisit a capital gains tax while Prime Minister after New Zealand First effectively spiked the proposal.
Some individual policies that seem to have merit include ACT’s proposal for targeted rates allowing councils to cover the cost of infrastructure for new developments, while the Greens’ progressive homeownership scheme (already established and under development as part of its coalition agreement with Labour) should help those less able to save up for a deposit.
But as always, there’s a limit to how far politicians will go to tackle housing unaffordability – as a fun game, ask the next one you see whether they think house prices should actually go down, not just “be affordable”. Almost all will give an unconvincingly reply, and that’s in part due to the sad truth that homeowners are more likely to vote than renters.
Here are some stories that you may like to read about the state of our housing market, and what could be done to fix it:
‘The ‘Lefties’ who want less housing’, Dileepa Fonseka: “Housing as a human right has been a cornerstone of progressive politics, but people on the left are some of those most opposed to building more of it.”
‘Our housing market is too big to fail’, Bernard Hickey: “The Covid-19 crisis has again proven there’s one type of asset that New Zealanders know in their bones is too big and important to be allowed to crash: housing.”
‘Plan to charge for emergency housing back on’, Dileepa Fonseka: “A Government plan to charge people for emergency housing like motels was derailed by Covid-19, but will now come into effect two days after the election.”
‘Housing policy as if young people mattered – and voted’, Dr Jenny McArthur and Jacqueline Paul: “It is possible to bring house prices down to affordable levels, permanently, if our political leaders have the courage and foresight to transform the housing system.”
*Some party leaders’ answers have been edited for length. New Zealand First and the New Conservatives were invited to take part, but did not provide a response.