This is a cross-post of an article written by Transportblog reader and passionate Cantabrian Brendon Harre. Brendon takes a look at New Zealand’s attitudes around housing development:

Robert Borson sculpture -titled “Homeless Angel”
Robert Borson sculpture -titled “Homeless Angel”

The inspiration for the title of this paper comes from an economist –Eric Crampton writing about Auckland’s housing crisis. Towards the end of his serious paper on the economics of how to fix Auckland’s housing woes, he wrote this;

Every time a NIMBY cries, an angel has to sleep in a car, or in a garage.

Eric obviously was reflecting the public’s concern about the rise of homelessness in Auckland. But he also alludes to another important issue. The losers of Nimby policies are invisible -like angels we cannot see their physical form. It is impossible to identify specific people who will be economically excluded from adequate shelter by Nimby policy. The specific Nimby rules or plans preventing suburbs becoming denser or new suburbs coming into existence cannot be directed attributed as the causative factor for an individual’s lack of adequate shelter. At the individual level there will always be a range of factors explaining homelessness or inadequate housing.

So it is difficult to put a face on those who will be disenfranchised. Such as, the essential worker excluded from a city due to the price of housing, a business man or woman who went elsewhere because housing was too great a cost for them or their potential employees, the community volunteer who ran out of time due to an over stretched work/life balance related to housing costs…… Because attributing an individual’s particular housing state to the specifics of housing supply is difficult, even though the evidence for groups is clear.

In local political processes in New Zealand, both formal, such as local government submission processes for planning hearings or informal -media discussions of different housing supply options, those who make social cost complaints are readily identifiable and heard, while those who would benefit are frequently unidentified and very rarely heard.

This can be seen recently in Christchurch, where a very modest up-zoning proposal was discussed in The Press, in an article titled Residents reject housing intensification plans in Christchurch. Three residents of the proposed up-zoned neighbourhoods were photographed and interviewed to discuss their objections to the up-zoning proposals. There were no counterbalancing arguments or photos showing the benefits to future residents if up-zoning is allowed.

harre medium density areas chch

Perhaps Christchurch and New Zealand should look overseas for a different perspective? For instance, recently pro-development groups and community organisations met in Boulder, Colorado to discuss a Yimby narrative. Urbanists such as Sara Maxana @Yimbymom from Seattle made the case for abundant housing and sustainable infilling. She presents the progressive left argument for Yimbyism (Yes in my backyard), being pro development activism to counter the anti-development concept of Nimbyism. Sara states a simple truth -that when housing choice is limited, the wealthy always win. Sara places the Yimby housing supply argument in a humanism framework.

Seattle is a city with rising house prices and rents, more people arriving than leaving and an under supply of housing construction. The city in response to its housing crisis has created the Housing Affordability and Liveability Agenda, HALA for short, a policy making package Sara actively campaigned for, along with other Seattle Yimby activists. In recent elections Yimby candidates bested the Nimbys to take governance control over the city.

In my previous article –What does Nimbyism say about Cantabrians I discussed how Nimbyism in the CBD is setting a bad precedent for Christchurch. That Nimbyism is inherently selfish and that Canterbury should return to more constructive and ‘can do’ attitudes.

A recent article in the New York Times titled –How Anti-Growth Sentiment, Reflected in Zoning Laws, Thwarts Equality -discusses the social and economic costs of Nimbyism (H/T Kent Lundberg at Transportblog).

…. when zoning laws get out of hand, economists say, the damage to the American economy and society can be profound. Studies have shown that laws aimed at things like “maintaining neighbourhood character” or limiting how many unrelated people can live together in the same house contribute to racial segregation and deeper class disparities. They also exacerbate inequality by restricting the housing supply in places where demand is greatest.

The lost opportunities for development may theoretically reduce the output of the United States economy by as much as $1.5 trillion a year, according to estimates in a recent paper by the economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti.

Canterbury’s housing crisis has abated somewhat since the earthquakes. Only a few years ago in Christchurch many people struggled to find good housing -even now some people are poorly housed due to unresolved insurance claims. Eventually, though in Canterbury housing supply did ramp up, in particular in the satellite towns of Waimakariri and Selwyn Councils. Nationally though the housing crisis is worsening and it would be wrong for Christchurch to be complacent about its housing supply policies.

In my opinion for Canterbury and New Zealand to build strong, healthy communities they should learn lessons from Yimbys not Nimbys.


If any readers have an opinion, experience or expertise on homelessness there is a Cross-Party Homelessness Inquiry where you can make verbal or written submission. Submissions close 12th August 2016.

Share this

36 comments

  1. I see many people making this point, especially in the boom cities. YIMBYies for people and growth!

    It is very sad to see the news in the herald highlighting the tragedy that paritai drive is no longer single house and gasp, people can now build townhouses on their sections. I think everybody will join me in protesting this. It should have been rezoned THAB to allow more people to enjoy the view. A considerable missed opportunity!

    I think that people miss the point, that has been made here and elsewhere, that what counts is total housing supply. If we give the wealthy the opportunity to live on paritia drive, we reduce pressure on housing elsewhere. Thus it doesn’t matter if the new houses are not ‘affordable’ provided that there are more, 😎

    1. The absolutely extraordinary thing about that article by the tireless Bernard Orsman is that the complaint is not about any actual change to the neighbourhood but rather the emotional one, that ‘people like us’ don’t live in a neighbourhood where anything other that big single house can be. And of course that is not even true now, and nor does it matter.

      Happily though if that is the best that the Herald’s chief hater of more housing can muster then I predict a swift passage through Council of the UP in it’s current form. Sympathy for such baseless and privileged whining will not be widespread.

      1. Come on Patrick, if you suddenly had 20 million dollars your views and outlook on life would change. Everyone has a view that is different to each other based on the individual’s history, struggles anbd finances. Last I checked NZ wasn’t a communist country. Just because there are those that disagree with you, and with me, it doesn’t make them any more right or wrong. The world is full of differing opinions. Trouble is you tend to take anyone who has a different view as a personal attack and respond in similar vein.

        1. Ricardo why do you bother? You never bring any argument of substance here, usually no argument at all; just one long whinge about what the rest of us do… it is neither convincing nor interesting.

          Try to work out what on earth you are for, then try to put it in a sentence; who knows, someone may even agree… as it is your efforts here barely rate as typing, let alone writing.

          1. I now see that I did misjudge just how many people in Auckland really do want to walk and cycle across the harbour and that the Skypath is really going to enhance city and people’s experience of it. Perhaps living in UK meant that I have got a bit out of touch with how much Auckland is changing and see now that my reactions to all these changes has been more out of fear than excitement in the possibilities for the city.

            So I now look forward to seeing how it works out, trying it myself, while also seeking to ensure the impacts Northcote Pt are more positive than negative.

          2. I have recently become aware, that someone I inpersonated here, has a very good friend who is a proffesional hacker. I sincerely regret my actions and realise that if it were not for the generosity of the person I inpersonated, my computer, phone and electronic life would be melting down before my eyes right now. Let this be a warning to everyone. Each of us is entitled to an opinion and just because we do not agree with someone else, it is not a licence to act like a child.

          3. Phil, are you seriously turning up here to moan about someone using your name, you who have used countless fake identities and have impersonated scores of people yourself. Have a whinge mate.

  2. Just to add I may be a passionate Cantabrian but I was born in Tauranga and had most of my primary school education in Auckland -Churchill Park. So I am not completely unfamiliar with Auckland.

  3. What gives an individual who has purchased an area of land in a place; right, privilege or control over an entire surrounding region? For as long into the future as they can see?
    I’ve been thinking, if you buy a house in ‘suburb’, why do you think you have the right to control every other subsequent purchase and development in the greater ‘suburb’, based on your opinion. You are not the king of every damn bit of thing that you rest your eyes on! (Bit wasted here as all the readers don’t think that, but the people who do, where do they get that from? Historical white privilege?)
    In addition, why the heck does someone think that they own the shared road and kerb on the street their house is on? ‘I don’t want cars parked on my street’, well then, you ought to argue for public transport and incentives to reduced car ownership and usage. In the mean time, that street is not yours and anyone can park there.
    I’m in a bit of full rant mode, so excuse me, but there is forecast data on population increase, actual data on current house pricing and rental price comparative to wage earnings, concrete evidence of people homeless / living in cars, and proven outcomes of benefits socially of well designed high density housing. The argument for this is not just an opinion.

    1. Of course if one is feeling housing frustration -expressing it is good -write something or say something to the politicians conducting the homelessness enquiry for example. Also check out the above Sara Maxana video because she turns a frustration into an activist/hopeful/ constructive thing.

    2. Agree with you tottally r.e. selfish, greedy attitudes. It comes down to love of strangers and the greater good..

  4. Another article that refuses to challenge the cause of the issue. We don’t have to perpetually grow at all. In fact the very fact that it’s proving so difficult and expensive only demonstrates that we shouldn’t be.

    Halt immigration into Auckland beyond what we can comfortably accomodate. Problem solved.

    1. That just creates another problem – defining ‘comfortably accommodate’, I imagine if you asked 100 people you would get 100 different answers.

    2. Well that would be cutting off your nose to spite your face. And one would suggest xenophobia given some previous posts by you on this topic.

      Ignoring the fact that a big chunk of “immigration” into Auckland are returning NZers, immigration of non-NZers is overwhelmingly a positive thing for the economy, as it is everywhere else. . Why would you deny yourself that? Has anyone seriously contemplated and implemented that?

      That isn’t to say there aren’t small changes we could make instead of everyone looking for a silver bullet or trying to shut yourself off from the world. For example, if you migrate to NZ (not with refugee/asylum seeker status) you must buy a new home, not existing stock. I believe Australia has something similar?

      Non-residents would face restrictions, but not bans. Minimum value of first home NZD2m.

      1. “And one would suggest xenophobia”

        Sorry KLK, but pulling the race card pretty discredits your viewpoint.

        “But Geoff, how do you do that? Have border security at the Bombay Hills?”

        You can have any rules you like around immigration, including where they can or cannot settle. We already have rules that encourage immigrants to settle outside Auckland. Just strengthen those rules. Many countries have far stricter immigration rules than New Zealand, and we are now seeing why.

        1. I didn’t pull out the race card,Geoff. I referred to some of your other posts, a number of which could be called xenophobic, particularly towards Asians.

          If you can’t handle the accusation, you might want to reconsider your position.

          To put it simply, you said it, not me.

          1. “a number of which could be called xenophobic”

            Nope. But you can’t describe the problem of chinese companies pushing kiwis out of home ownership without mentioning China. I suggest you misunderstand what xenophobia actually is. You do get that many kiwis are also chinese right, and that some live in cars and garages?

            “Or are you going to tell NZ citizens where they can live”

            It’s not rocket science – you simply require external immigrants to settle outside Auckland for a defined period. That means they work and buy their homes elsewhere, and the chances are most will stay there when they become citizens, should they choose to do so.

            The process has already been started. It just needs to be strengthened.

            http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/key-announces-incentives-immigrants-settle-outside-auckland-ck-176138

          2. “But you can’t describe the problem of chinese companies pushing kiwis out of home ownership without mentioning China”

            You can’t make racist quips about a particular subset of people without mentioning the country of origin. You could recognise that only complaining about Chinese companies is racist.

        2. So once the immigrants become NZ citizens they presumably have freedom of movement to go to AKL – you know, mirroring most of the migration to the city.

          Or are you going to tell NZ citizens where they can live?

          The idea is nonsense.

        3. Geoff, I would agree that opposing Chinese companies buying NZ housing stock is not xenophobic. I never made that claim and I would actually support the restrictions you propose.

          My comment was in relation to your unworkable immigration controls and my observation that when you post on that topic (immigration) you typically only mention Asians. Maybe the penny hasn’t dropped yet, but I doubt it. Xenophobic might not have been the right term after all…

          Back on topic, thanks for the NBR link. It contains no mention of Auckland immigration controls as you propose, so there isn’t anything to “tighten.

          Incentives, to settle outside of Auckland, yes. “Chances are most will stay elsewhere”. Maybe, but I am guessing a material number will be like you and choose to move to the big smoke from where they were initially living.

    3. Yeah, let’s social-engineer the s*** out of this! But if it’s going to be fair then incumbents shouldn’t get automatic right to reside. When your number doesn’t come up in the annual lottery then you have six weeks’ notice to be outside the city limits with all your belongings or face incarceration – seems reasonable don’t you think?

    4. But Geoff, how do you do that? Have border security at the Bombay Hills? In a free and democratic society like ours people have to have freedom of movement. You can’t even impose restrictions on new NZ residents. You might give them some extra points or incentive if they initially locate to the provinces, but once they’re here, how the hell do you stop them moving to Auckland if they want to? Do you have second class “P plate” residents who can be restricted from where they can live? And to do that you’d need a perimeter round Auckland, monitoring, a whole police state. It’s unthinkable.
      Or do you mean restricting immigration in general? Our immigration numbers aren’t high, once you take out returning citizens, who presumably you don’t want to stop from coming home. But I’d also argue that restricting immigration runs counter to the NZ way of life. This, more than any other country I can think of, is a country of immigrants. A mere 1000 years ago, when most countries had had people living there for tens of thousands of years, including “New World” countries like America and Australia, there was nobody here at all. Then a whole load of immigrants came, by waka, by ship and by plane. You want to stop that? You want to be part of the generation that says “Actually now we’re here, we want to keep things as they are, because we’re just so amazing”? The idea that you can cap Auckland’s numbers, that we get to decide how many people live in a city, is farcical. That’s just not how it works. Ultimately a combination of geographical factors and economics will result in some sort of upper bound, but it’s millions more than we have in Auckland today.

      1. “But I’d also argue that restricting immigration runs counter to the NZ way of life”

        New Zealand is built on immigration, but dispersal of new arrivals was far and wide, the length of the country, not thousands settling in one small area (other than during the gold rush years). That, combined with low numbers in the grand scheme of things, is sustainable. But that is not what we are seeing in Auckland. Auckland’s new arrivals are not only unsustainable without massive infrastructure upgrades, but there is significant manipulation of things such as the housing market taking place. As I said, it should be unacceptable to everyone, you included, that we have new housing developments being snapped up by chinese companies and onsold to people in China before they have even come here, whilst New Zealanders are living in their cars. It’s a case of a pro-business government, with its arms twisted by a free trade agreement, running a system that favours external immigrants over existing New Zealand citizens, and it’s very wrong.

        1. +1 Geoff.
          As you mentioned past immigration has been fairly spread around the country. It is only over the past couple of decades with mostly Asian (particularly Chinese) immigration that we have seen a huge concentration in Auckland.
          Yes large cities attract immigrants due to their typically being an agglomeration of other immigrants (ie hanging out with their own race/citizens etc) as can be seen in the likes of New York and London, however Auckland is a whole different scale to those places. As a result ethnically Auckland is now more diverse than pretty much any other developed city in the world (we might not have someone from every different village in deep Africa or the Amazon or Outer Mongolia but in terms of the makeup of Auckland there are huge percentages of various Asians in particular but also from all over the world).

          Canada has a policy of dictating which province people are allowed to live in until such time as they get either permanent residency or citizenship. An example would be that you are allowed to live in Manitoba but not BC. In NZ you would probably make the restriction within 100km of downtown Auckland as the crow flies (which would effectively mean anything North or Hamilton’s urban area or South of Wellsford would be banned (which effectively stops people commuting too).

          Personally I would increase the English language requirement back up for most types of visas with exceptions really being for things like super smart scientists/engineers etc who are actually requested by companies etc here. We don’t need more highly skilled taxi drivers or dairy owners or bakeries. Likewise the visa for those with lots of $$ needs to be pushed higher and that money needs to actually be invested in NZ businesses not in just buying up houses that Kiwis are trying to buy.

          The NZH has just released stats on house buyers and up to 60% are not Kiwis living in NZ (in other words some are Kiwis living overseas but most are either foreigners either new to NZ or are overseas buyers buying through their family/friends who are living here). On top of that direct sales to foreign buyers is 5% (well down on what it was last year before the law changes) with most being from China. But hey just keep quiet don’t say anything in case you annoy the PC brigade. In the meantime we are very rapidly becoming tenants in our own land (even that isn’t accurate is the land is being sold from under us!).

  5. It is an issue where democracy failed.

    The wealthy are over represented and the young and poor are under represented.

    The local interest are taken priority over national interest.

    The solution, instead of arguing, It is better to enforce a compulsory voting for all people in all ages.

    For issues that are beyond local, such as state transport, regional transport, the local can only have the power to find a best local solution to achieve the regional goal, instead of reject the regional decision.

    1. The young don’t vote. That’s the tragedy. The turnout in the local body elections is so low, it would be easy to swing the result if they came out in decent numbers. Actually, with regard to local body elections, even if we just got people under 60 to turn out it would make a big difference.

  6. I think it would be helpful to compare the costs and benefits of building an apartment block of 10 levels, 4 apartments in each level, to building 40 houses in a new suburb.
    I think the total benefits and savings to Auckland will be large with the implemented unity plan. Money can then be better spent on other things.

    1. Most Yimbys are just arguing for more freedom of choice, rather than a set of rules that allows people to dictate how others around them live their lives, so they can maintain their own interests.

Leave a Reply