State housing, or “social housing” more generally, is often in the news for one reason or another. Governments over the years have all had their own policies. In this post series, I won’t really be looking at the pros and cons (at least not much) – I’ll mainly be looking at some of the numbers.
Part 2: State Housing Through the Years
There are a couple of easy-to-read histories of state housing here and here, and another take here. I’ll look at some different aspects in this post, although I’ve relied on the data from those sources in terms of the ‘stock’ and ‘construction’ of state homes.
State housing began to take off in a big way in the 1940s, and the number of homes kept rising until around 1990, peaking at 70,000.
The chart stops at 2002, but numbers haven’t changed much since then. Depending on whether you’re looking at occupied homes only, or all state-owned homes, or adding in the properties which Housing NZ leases but doesn’t own, you’re looking at 64,000-68,000 ‘state homes’ today.
Those figures are just snapshots of how many state homes there are at a point in time. They’re affected by the number of homes built each year, and by the number of homes sold off. Tenants have often had the right to buy their home, or the homes may have been sold to other social housing providers or on the open market. The graph below shows the number of state homes built or sold each year:
State home construction was quite significant from the 1940s right through until the 1970s. Around 80,000 homes were built over those four decades, averaging 2,000 a year.
Again, the chart above stops at 2002, but here’s one which I’ve put together which runs from the mid-1970s up to the present day. It uses different data – building consents, whereas I imagine the previous graph is based on completions:
After the fast-building 1970s, the level of construction ebbed in the early 1980s. There was a bit of a resurgence in the late ‘80s – more than 1,000 a year – but very few homes were built in the 1990s or 2000s.
So, on to the 2010s. National deserve credit for ramping up home construction in the last few years. The last time this many state homes were being built was under the Lange government. 700 of the homes were to replace earthquake-damaged ones in Canterbury, but there’s also a growing state presence in other places, especially Auckland. Even without the Canterbury rebuilds, there have been 1,400 state homes consented in the last three years, higher than any other period since the ’80s.*
Housing New Zealand will actually be scaling up its build rate even more – to 1,000-2,000 homes a year.
On the other hand, if National had started building more state homes as soon as they were voted in eight years ago, it could have taken the edge off the housing crisis for some of the most vulnerable people in Auckland. It could also have smoothed the boom-bust-boom for the construction industry, meaning today we might have a more experienced workforce, and more homes to show for it. The industry shrank by 20% in the post-GFC years.
Hindsight is always 20/20, though. No doubt the government might have done things differently if it knew what was coming, but it was really just continuing 20 years of lacklustre state home building.
* However, this may well include developments where Housing New Zealand keeps some homes and sells off others to social housing providers or on the open market, so the number of ‘new state homes’ could be overstated.