Mark Wilson: We need to fix housing challenges ourselves


Many blows have been traded over who’s to blame for housing unaffordability in New Zealand.

I’ve seen some ill-informed debate about this.

The recent documentary Who Owns NZ Now, which screened last week, was no exception.

It carried a strong political bias timed to influence voters.

While it touched on a few good points, it tried to pin the issue almost solely on central government allowing greedy speculators taking advantage of our free market system to profit from hard-working Kiwis.

Finger-pointing won’t solve anything and the drivers of our housing affordability challenge are complex and multi-faceted.

They feature several global drivers beyond our control, coupled with some big own-goals in planning and land use regulation.

Labour did nothing in nine years and National has struggled with its nine.

The issue won’t vanish simply by apportioning blame.

And those who think we can just wave a magic wand and throw out the entire global system of economics, replacing it with isolationist capital, trade and immigration policies, coupled with heavy-handed government intervention, need to use our economic demise in the 1970s as contraception to that idea.

Any town needs an affordable place to live for long-term residents working in key social sectors – such as law enforcement, education and health – whose incomes are usually set nationally.

In this regard, Queenstown has reached a dangerous precipice.

Solutions are needed to avoid a social dislocation and, rightly, our mayor and his team say we need to fix this ourselves.

The council’s looking at a new model under which it owns the land and aspiring home owners can purchase the house on it.

Council involvement should focus on provision of land, while private sector and competitive forces build the development.

Anyone looking for inspiration need only look abroad. One example is Hammerby, in Stockholm.

We need to focus on the same things they did – sustainability, both economic and environmental, habitability, connectivity to public transport hubs and affordability.

As we grow we need to maintain the natural beauty and lifestyle which underpin our appeal.

High-density houses should be built on existing council-owned spaces, such as Frankton Motor Camp or the Frankton golf course.

The council would set conditions on purchasers – income thresholds or first-home buyers only, for example.

Restricting resale would manage price inflation.

Housing trusts and private financiers could help provide finance or lease-to-own options.

Infrastructure would be built, and design-and-build rules set, before private developers offer innovative designs to keep costs down via competition. Buyers can buy direct from the developer at agreed margins, as can housing trusts which can lease or sell houses as they see fit.

Potential buyers only pay for capital improvements, which provides affordability, as will sensible, compact design.

Higher density will increase council rates, helping to offset the council’s loss of lease revenue.

However, the project can’t overly distort the private housing market so the scale should be limited to an appropriate size for the problem.

To get this right, public and private interests must work together.

Mark Wilson is allergic to magic wands – and stardust