A great recent article takes a “deep dive” look at the steps San Francisco’s new mayor could take to fix their housing crisis. The new mayor – London Breed – is a breath of fresh air in a city with some of the most expensive housing in the world and also some of the most rampant NIMBYism.

Sitting at the heart of one of the most economically successful urban regions in the world, San Francisco’s housing prices are pretty wild.

In her inauguration speech, Mayor Breed diagnosed the problem:

“We have people who come from all over the world, who come to create, who are innovative, who look at San Francisco and say that is the place where I want to be.

And we have failed. We have failed to build more housing to accommodate the increase in the number of job opportunities that have poured into San Francisco, pushing residents who have been here all their lives out of the city that they call home.”

And she’s right. San Francisco’s median home price is currently $1.3 million, according to Zillow; median rents are at $4,500 a month. In recent years, we’ve added eight jobs for every new housing unit and haven’t learned from our mistakes: We’re approving thousands of new jobs in areas like SoMa, without adding enough homes to absorb those drawn to our booming economy.

The article runs through key changes that San Francisco needs to make to get on top of its housing problems:

  1. Removing density controls
  2. Streamlining the incredibly complex and lengthy consenting process
  3. Upzoning in transit corridors
  4. Adding an “affordable housing overlay” to planning rules to incentivise the construction of more affordable housing
  5. Prioritising public land for housing

It’s a pretty good checklist. And an interesting one to compare against Auckland. We have done well in the Unitary Plan to remove density controls from most zones (which means the size and bulk of buildings is what’s regulated rather than how many units those buildings are split into). We also have a much simpler consenting process than San Francisco. Just look at their system!

In terms of incentivising affordable housing, Auckland shied away from that in finalising the Unitary Plan. There’s a robust debate over whether this concept – known as “inclusionary zoning” is a good idea or not, but it’s certainly used in a lot of places.

That leaves the last two – upzoning around transit corridors and prioritising public land for housing. A good example of how both approaches could be applied to Auckland is the recent announcement of a major housing redevelopment at Mangere:

Housing Minister Phil Twyford has announced a 15-year project to replace 2700 old state homes with 10,000 new homes.

Of those homes 3000 will be state homes, 3500 will be affordable and KiwiBuilds, and 3500 market price homes.

The development was already being put together – but with 7000 homes – when the Government came to office…

…Twyford said the houses would make great use of his planned light rail line between the CBD and the airport.

A map indicates that the first stage of redeveloping Mangere will be around Bader Drive:

A while back I discussed possible route options for light-rail through Mangere, one of which would take it down Bader Drive and right through the heart of this area. Redeveloping this publicly owned housing land to much higher densities around light-rail, while still growing the public housing stock, is one of the most obvious “win-win” policies I’ve seen for a long time.

However, and this touches on the “upzoning” point of the San Francisco plan, this whole area that’s poised for massive redevelopment and will have light-rail running through the heart of it, is actually only zoned Mixed Housing Urban. While this zone doesn’t have density controls, it only allows development up to three floors – which simply may be a missed opportunity for the scale of development that might now become viable if light-rail runs through here:

The sheer scale of government-owned land in this part of Auckland provides some amazing opportunities to build large quantities of warm, dry, new and more suitable housing into a part of Auckland that desperately needs it (Mangere has some of the highest levels of over-crowding in the region), and then to provide this area with fantastic access to the rest of Auckland with light-rail.

With these plans added to the Unitec housing plans, which will be within walking distance of Northwest light-rail, we are starting to see a more integrated approach to transport and housing in Auckland. Hopefully we will see further plans of major redevelopment along the proposed light-rail corridors emerge over the next few months.

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  1. Yes, height restrictions in a lot of Auckland just need to go. Especially in areas like this of large blocks of government land. This is an excellent project but it could be even better if made even higher density by building up. Thing is these new buildings are expected to last 100 years. That means in 30 years when they might want to really build higher they won’t be able to as it would be uneconomical to knock down these buildings that have plenty of life left in them.

    1. Twyford is drawing up an NPS/NES that will remove height and density restrictions for areas within a certain distance from a Transit Station or Line. So we might get that wish without the need for expensive Public Plan Changes for upzoning.

      1. Key here is preventing the sausage developments. So it’s whether he gets rid of the set-back and boundary controls, while having the guts to also require permeable green infrastructure in the right places.

        1. I agree. But getting rid of boundary rules, such as, setback and shade plane requirements is difficult. They are there to protect nuisance externalities. They serve a purpose -to protect neighbouring properties from loss of sunlight, privacy etc. To change that is hugely politically challenging, that is why the Unitary Plan did not alter them.

          It is an uncomfortable fact -but the Unitary Plan is not as pro intensification as claimed -including by this website, because of fishhooks like unaltered boundary rules.

          The government could try to impose Japanese/Tokyo style planning rules -which largely determines that the costs of imposing such nuisance value externality rules is not worth the loss in development potential.

          California tried that in the areas within walking distance of rapid transit services and it got a lot of support and publicity -but ultimately it failed to get legislative support.

          Maybe that wouldn’t be the outcome in NZ and I would certainly support a wholesale dropping of boundary rules.

          But if that is not feasible, then there is an alternative. Let neighbourhoods decide for themselves, on a case by case basis, whether nuisance values are worth the loss in development potential.

          I explain this argument here.
          https://medium.com/land-buildings-identity-and-values/can-great-design-help-solve-the-housing-crisis-c70a078d409d

          This paper and the two following was in response to the feedback I received from this website when it published my Hobsonville paper.

          1. Boundary rules at the moment is too restrictive and one size fits all

            It need to be more flexible.

            -Allow reciprocal boundary agreement between neighbors to waive the rules
            -Using a sunlight and view modelling to override default setback rule
            -South side should require less setback than north sun.
            -If the neighbors boundary is a non living area such as carpark, gardenshed, trees, or bush, the boundary rules in that part should be eased.
            -If the neighbor boundary contour (sea level) is higher, then the setback should be eased
            -If the new building does not block the neighbor main view, then the setback rules can be exempted
            -If the view in neighbor is already blocked, ie a tree or a power pole, then no setback rules should apply for that view.

            All of those can be done by a surveyor and submit to council for review. The neighbor does not have a right to reject if the nuisance cost is low, compare to development value.

        1. He is the Minister for Urban Development and can ask Minister Parker for such an NPS to deliver the outcomes of the Government.

          Also a reason why Urban Development should be taken out of the RMA and into its own legislation overseen by an Urban Development Minister

  2. Exciting stuff with the possibilities in that area. IF LR was to detour off SH20 and onto McKenzie and Bader Drive with 2 stops maybe? Would certainly increase the catchment and ‘could’ transform the town centre area into a much more pedestrian friendly area.

    1. Agree, if the density of this area is high enough it will make the small detour on the trip to the airport worthwhile, especially as they are now referring to it as Mangere light rail.

      I doubt two stops on a rapid transit route could be justified though, looks like Bader Drive between Mackenzie Rd and the motorway is only about 1km long.

      1. Yes fair enough about the one stop.
        Although moving the LR through this area is ‘great’ for this area, but then does move the catchment further from the other side of the motorway too. Lots of houses over in that area also (but i guess they are sort of close-ish to the Otahuhu rail station).

        1. Haha, I had the same thought after I sent my previous comment! Looking at the wider area it is probably best just to keep the line near the motorway as it would be less than 500m walk from the proposed development and would increase the catchment east of the motorway.

    2. Having seen the Mangere development and pretty much like Huapai, why wait for the mythical light rail to never eventuate when there is a rail line, namely Onehunga, straight across the harbour with the bridge strengthened for it to take rail straight through the new development to the Airport.

      It has to be so much more doable here and now than a LR system that will not withstand a change of government!

      1. The bridge was only designed for a single track while the Onehunga line is also single track. I don’t see why you would waste any money on a line that would have frequencies too low to even be considered rapid transit.

        1. My rationale is as per my last paragraph, unless there is a lot of progress and contracts made bulletproof in the next 18 months then LR is not going to happen under any other government.

          At least with heavy rail its a lot more probable to get it underway by next year. Double tracking is small in comparison to the acquisition of land for the entire LR network as well as everything required to get it up and running.

          1. The last thing we need is a government that is making poor short term decisions through fear of not being re-elected, I’d be disappointed if National did that, same for Labour.

            Also I’m not sure where the fear of Labour being a one term government comes from. All four polls this year would have Labour in government again and it is really hard to see what National is offering that would give them the unprecedented ability to govern alone, which is pretty much what they need.

  3. On the consenting process. I have heard repeatedly the claims that red tape are holding things up. I assume that is from developers wanting any kind of regulation watered down or removed to maximise profit.

    Well it does not take long at all to find places for sale in Auckland that have “weather tightness issues”, yep they leak like sieves because they are badly designed and badly built using unskilled labour using crap materials all to maximise profits. And as we know there is no guarantee that the company that built the leaker will be around anytime shortly thereafter to rectify the problem. And magnify that problem many times for apartment complexes.

    And then there are dwellings for sale telling prospective buyers it leaks but reassuringly that there is “a claim against the council”, one assumes because it is alleged the council failed in its legal obligations to ensure the slapped up building was fit and proper.

    I for one do not want to see any regulations weakened or otherwise because ratepayers become the fall guy for poorly designed and built buildings of which there are many. In fact and in this time of hurried construction to play catch up, they must be strengthened!

    1. You seem to be of the view that “regulations” are all cut from the same cloth. And that weakening them = private profits whereas strengthening them = social benefits.

      Such a simplistic view is extremely naieve.

      There are good regulations, for example those that protect us from externalities while imposing little costs. And there are bad regulations, like minimum parking requirements and (arguably) many density controls.

      What Auckland has started doing, and SF is apparently looking at doing, is evaluating whether current regulations are good or bad from the perspective of society. Not developers.

      Bad regulations don’t just hurt developers, they hurt society. If you are seriously concerned about improving people’s lot in life, then you should be a passionate advocate for getting rid of bad regulations, especially those that constrain housing supply — which evidence suggests benefits rich property-owners the most.

    2. Try building something and see if you change your mind! Our extension had about 16 inspections, most of them inside the house (what does that have to do with anyone?). Each one created hassles and costs in terms of sequencing (can’t do this until after the inspection), waiting for the inspector (could wait up to a week), and a pass or fail was typically more about the inspector you got rather than the quality of work. A lot of paperwork was involved – some inspectors barely looked at the work as long as the blame couldn’t come to the council.
      And keep in mind this is the same system that all those leaky houses were built under!

      I would rather the inspection process was significantly cut back and that cost saving was instead used on more rigorous building standards – for example in the US they have ply cladding under the ‘siding’ (weatherboard, etc). So even if the weatherboard leaks, its still got another layer to get through. And that ply is also structural so the house is really well braced.

      1. That doesn’t make sense, how can you have more rigorous building standards at the same time as cutting back the inspections…. whose sole purpose is to ensure you are meeting building standards?!

        1. Most of the important stuff can be checked in three inspections: Foundations, framing, and final. And you don’t need a ton of paperwork and blame documents. Focus on the important stuff and not the box ticking.

        2. I guess I meant better material standards. Double glazing, double cavity, more insulation, etc. we’ve skimped on these for years in NZ.

          if the foundation and framing are good and it is double cavity it won’t fall over or leak. Almost all the other stuff can be seen by the buyer or if it did go wrong won’t cost much to fix.

  4. “With these plans added to the Unitec housing plans, which will be within walking distance of Northwest light-rail, we are starting to see a more integrated approach to transport and housing in Auckland. Hopefully we will see further plans of major redevelopment along the proposed light-rail corridors emerge over the next few months.”

    Note this is Central Government through Housing NZ, HLC and NZTA here. Nothing from Auckland Transport who would not have the foggiest clue nor do their Executive Managers and their CEO see the apparent value in Integrated Planning and Transit Orientated Developments either.

    Major disconnect if Central Gov takes their eye off the ball.

    1. Hmmm, so I was going to approach Panuku with an idea. It’s on Council land, provides scope for lots of homes, fixes a major urban form problem, prevents escalation of said problem, and is already well served by public transport. Do you think I should go straight to the government instead?

  5. Regarding height and density, I think there are two extremes. We do not want sprawl or sixties housing projects. We still want amenity via sunlight, views and greenspace. If Mangere was3-4 stories, with up to six stories on wider corridors, that would be plenty of catchment for high frequency transit, but still a nice place too.

    Wee need a local high street and some simple rules on mixed use and local services too. Should you need zoning approval to build a superette under 100m2? I say no.

  6. We need thoughts on fixing the housing crisis.

    Hmmmm. What about this one. Maybe Grey Lynn is not the most fortunate location for the most expensive open air wooden house museum in the world.

    If that one is considered too hard for some reason, we’re in big trouble.

    More seriously, there must be a way to gradually build up a block of existing build up area to something more substantial than just single houses. One, or maybe a handful of sections at a time. (see what cohaus is doing, also see every single townhouse development out there). I don’t believe for one second you’ll ever get an entire block of existing houses to redevelop at once.

    1. It’s always enlightening to see how Manhattan Island has grown – ie, it grew in waves. For the first hundred years or so, it was much like Auckland – lots of small single houses. Then it has changed in big broad swathes, with wholesale demolition and rebuilding of vast sections – first to terrace housing, then again to brownstones (about 4 stories, conjoint), then again in blocks reaching higher but still brick-based, and then to concrete multi storey, and then again to steel megabucks. Each time there is a wave, most of the old got destroyed, occasionally some areas got left behind.

      Personally, I’m hopeful that Auckland can grow up enough so that it too can manage wholesale rebuilding of vast swathes of the metropolis. Last time I went on the bus to the airport, we passed through an area of State housing – near Mt Albert maybe? – with only sparse housing on what looked like almost quarter acre blocks. Incredibly wasteful. Rip the old houses out, and replace with a density five times higher at least. Auckland does not need to get bigger – but it sure as hell needs to get denser!

      1. I agree -but to build up will require some collective changes to rules and practices i.e blindly continuing to build cities like we did in 50’s will not work. We need to look at what’s holding this natural intensification progression back in NZ.

        I don’t think I have all the answers -but I think I at least illustrate some big opportunities in the following paper.
        https://medium.com/land-buildings-identity-and-values/can-great-design-help-solve-the-housing-crisis-c70a078d409d

        1. I’m not 100% sure, but I think that the “natural intensification progression” of Manhattan was advanced by periodic lifting of the rules and barriers, especially to height. Because land was so expensive, and was in limited supply (could not expand due to the limits of the confines of the Island), when they raised the height limit from 3 stories to 6 stories, the only economic response was for people to demolish their existing buildings and rebuild anew, up higher, and just about everyone in that area did this at once.

          Auckland Council has effectively started this process by lifting the barriers on heights in some places – that is the opportunity – now they need to bring it into play by raising the taxes on the land where people are effectively squandering it. ie both Carrot and Stick.

          1. Average Human I think the driver to intensification was increasing demand to live and do business in Manhattan. I think that was the natural progression -growing cities with sensible planning rules will build up and out.

            Without that economic activity, changes in planning rules will have little effect.

            For instance, if the government decided it could build 7,500 state houses in Invercargill rather than Mangere, it might be more affordable but it would be a failure, because they is no underlying economic activity for an additional 20,000 residents to tap into.

  7. Tend to agree. In suburban areas like this, 4 storey heights throughout the area would deliver a huge amount of dwellings, creating density, but getting the balance right.

    On the periphery it could be 6 storeys. Above stations in more built up areas (using recent development in Manukau and New Lynn as pointers) – as high as the market wants to go…

  8. Sorry Stu to be so simplistic and naive but ratepayers have and are being burnt by light handed regulations where it counts.

    And you would have to be truly naive to think developers don’t lobby to cut corners in amongst every other regulation removed in the name of efficiency!

    1. regulations relating to construction standards are completely different from density controls.

      You seem to be focused on the former, whereas this post focuses on the latter. I’m asking you to separate the two types of regulations because, frankly, you’ve been reading the blog for long enough to know better. People beating the same, simplistic drum (pro-regulation or anti-regulation) renders the comment thread rather boring.

      There is no link between regulations on construction quality and density controls. Someone could build a low-quality detached house, or a low-quality apartment building. While Auckland has it’s share of both, construction quality is distinct from density controls. Legislation on construction quality (if not responsibility for enforcement) is largely the domain of central government whereas density controls are (largely) determined by local government.

      In terms of efficiency, when evaluating whether a certain regulation is desirable, councils evaluate the benefits and costs to *society*, not *developers*. Such evaluations often require having an understanding of how a regulation affects construction costs, but that is a quite separate matter from developer profits. The degree to which changes in construction costs flow through to profits depends on market power, which is another relatively complex topic entirely.

      So to suggest de-regulation of density controls follows purely from lobbying by the constuction industry, rather than council efforts to understand what is beneficial for society, is, well, also too simplistic. And rather insulting to all of the hard-working, intelligent, decent people who work for local government in New Zealand!

  9. As I’ve mentioned I was in London recently and basically everywhere we went had at least three stories and normally more than that (five or six). And you know what? It doesn’t feel oppressive. It doesn’t feel busy or cramped (mind you, never went inside any of these places*). It doesn’t get in the way of “leafy suburbs” (indeed, some of these streets were a lot leafier than what you get here). It’s also probably quite expensive because it’s London and not long by bus to Oxford Circus and that area but I’m sure it could be affordable.

    It’s not like we don’t try and build things in this vague shape,though. I mean, look at Addison in Takanini. I hate going past there. Every time I see those houses they just scream out to me for an extra two stories. It’s so frustrating and wasteful. (Although, obviously, this area has pretty poor public transport accessibility.)

    I look at a lot of stuff I read in terms of urban thinking and my general conclusion is that we have to go back to go for the future (for is not a typo). If we only pretended that the only way to get anywhere quickly was by rail, I feel like we’d live in a much better world. There. I said it.

    tl;dr — keeping such developments as the one discussed here to three stories is a massive missed opportunity, but worse than that is dangerously short sighted

    n.b. am I the only who noticed there will be only an extra 300 state homes?

    *The main place we stayed was my cousin’s mum’s flat, which was on the ground floor of a large block like brick building in an estate with several such buildings. That was only cramped in the sense there were four of us in what I’ll call a 1.5 bedroom dwelling.

  10. A good master planned design is to build a few high rise buildings. In between buildings it is separated by quality landscaped open gardens and common facilities (bbq, playgrounds, walking tracks, lawns, water features). This ensure all dwellings have good open garden views while maintaining a efficient density.

    This is far superior than filling up the land with two storeys buildings with no views between buildings.

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