Auckland has a housing shortage.

Everybody likes houses. Everybody understands that everybody needs to be housed. Nobody wants people to be homeless, or even overcrowded.

People typically choose to live in a neighbourhood because they like that neighbourhood as it is. So, any change to that neighbourhood undermines exactly why people have invested themselves into that neighbourhood. New houses disrupt what people like about a neighbourhood (plus some disruption in the actual–and often protracted–effort of building: Construction sites aren’t exactly known for their eerily silence).

These two facts are obviously in tension with one another: housing construction has broadly dispersed positive effects, but highly geographically concentrated negative effects. Emerging from this is the familiar phrase: “I support housing, just not in my backyard”. It’s easy to dismiss “I support housing” as outright dishonesty, but often these same people will be gleefully voting at the national ballot box for politicians who are promising to build more. This is an insight into the heart of the issue: housing policy is primarily driven by local councillors whose electorate feels the negative effects of a given development more severely but doesn’t capture the positives. Government, whose electorate does capture the positives of new housing, mostly only provides a decision-making framework for housing.

Cities are places where people live close to one another. At some point the house you’re living in imposed the same disruption on its neighbours. If you don’t allow the disruption of people building near one another nowhere can grow into a city. Cities have to rely on an implicit social contract whereby you reap all the benefits of being close to other people, but sometimes tolerate the disruptions they cause, including new housing.

To enforce this social contract, the government has to step in.

This is exactly what Judith Collins suggested during her State of the Nation speech on Monday.

“I am calling on the Government to introduce urgent temporary legislation to make it easier to build a house, until the permanent RMA reforms are completed,” Collins said.

“The legislation would give [the] Government powers to rezone land and avoid frustrating consenting delays. It was done by National following the Canterbury earthquakes. It’s now urgent for the rest of the country.”

The policy would see much of the power over housing consenting wrested from councils and given to central government. The Government would be able to rezone council land to allow for more housing – both through greenfield developments and through intensification.

It would also suspend the requirement for infrastructure to be built prior to zoning and suspend the appeals process so district plans could be completed “as soon as possible”.

The government stepping in to tackle the housing crisis isn’t a new idea. The government is rapidly ramping up the production of state houses, it introduced a National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) which provides a set of principles to plan to, and is rebuilding the RMA from scratch. But you can only make so many state houses in the immediate term. The NPS-UD won’t be affecting plans until ~2024, and it’ll be a few years before those plans build houses. RMA reform may not even be out of consultation by the time NPS-UD hits. Even when it’s passed by Parliament, it may be some number of years before the RMA phases out and this kicks in. Collins is right: the government has a short-term hole in its housing agenda. Giving it power to step in to unilaterally rezone land without appeals would an incredibly effective tool for meeting its immediate housing goals, as well as its broader climate and transport goals.

Collins is also right that the surge in housing supply that was allowed to due rezoning Christchurch has been effective at holding down housing costs. However, Collins speech and accompanying letter to the Prime Minister focused primarily on how to enable more greenfields development, exporting the Christchurch model to the rest of the country. Whatever the pros and cons of greenfields generally, Auckland is not Christchurch. Christchurch sits in the middle of a flat plain, while Auckland is skewered by harbours and fenced in by mountainous forests. Auckland simply does not have the greenfield opportunities of Christchurch.

Last year, Auckland Council economist David Norman attempted to quantify the cost of the Rural-Urban Boundary, Auckland’s mechanism for deciding whether a parcel is zoned for rural or urban use.

Using low estimates of the cost of bulk infrastructure to convert farm-sized land outside the RUB into residential land, we find the RUB factor for residential land inside the RUB is at most 1.6% to 5.2% of the value of the average residential property inside the RUB. Compared to lifestyle-sized land outside the RUB, the RUB factor on residential land inside the RUB is at most 0.6% to 4.2% of the value of the average residential property inside the RUB. These premiums are dramatically smaller than suggested by previous work, which relied on pre-Unitary Plan data and had other limitations.

Fortunately we do have a template for affordability in Auckland: the Unitary Plan. Following its introduction in 2016, housing consents have exploded. StatsNZ’s Rental Price Index, which provides a quality-adjusted measure of rent costs, shows that Auckland is the only city in Aotearoa that is starting to become more affordable. The government should take the tools that Collins is suggesting, and use them to double down on the intensification-first approach offered by the Unitary Plan, while fixing what hasn’t produced housing.

Changes in Auckland rental costs have followed the same trends as changes in Auckland housing supply-demand

In particular, townhouses have been popular across the city, and the government should consider re-zoning for Multi-Housing Urban (MHU) Zone across the city, which allows typologies like townhouses and 3-storey walk-ups (I have written previously about how that would fit into our suburbs). The Unitary Plan has also failed to produce any new development in extremely high demand suburbs like Ponsonby, Mt Eden, Parnell, Epsom, and Remuera. It is critical that we allow intensification within walkable and bikeable distances of our city centre to meet our climate goals.

Map of Auckland’s dwelling consents, produced by @gallicist on twitter.

Similarly, NZ has always seemingly suffered a cruel catch-22: we need density to justify climate-friendly public transport, and public transport to justify density. This is actually very easy to solve: allow density near existing and planned transit stations. This is one of the core objectives of the NPS-UD, and while the government shouldn’t try to pre-empt the trade-offs that councils are making, it would be worth using this tool to bring forward the obvious upzonings that that will produce. This should include the Dominion Road rapid transit, whatever mode ends up being built through that corridor.

[Climate Change Commissioner Rod] Carr has also been vocal about the need to fundamentally transform New Zealand society in the face of climate change.

“We are going to have to fundamentally change how we move about and how we move stuff about,” he told Newsroom.

“It means more active mobility, more walking, more biking, more public transport using electrified energy sources from renewables. It means EVs where appropriate. It means we use the internal combustion engine sparingly, in special use cases, until they can be swapped out as well. We need to get on with that sooner rather than later.”

Most importantly, with a set of tools like this, you may only need to use them once, if at all. Local communities know what makes their communities great, and when pushed, they know how to allow growth that keeps their neighbourhoods good, and they’d prefer that they let growth happen than having it be done to them.

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57 comments

  1. “People typically choose to live in a neighbourhood because they like that neighbourhood as it is.”

    This statement blithely assumes an unconstrained freedom of housing choice that simply doesn’t exist. Most people choose a neighbourhood based on what they can afford and what is available on the market at the time they’re looking. Just because someone lives in an area doesn’t mean they like it the way it is. Plus there may be many people outside an area who would like to live there but can’t because of a lack of supply (I’m thinking of the villa belt in particular).

    1. You may also choose a neighbourhood based on what might or will be built, aka assume gentrifcation will happen, more people, cafe’s, amenities.

      Sadly for Judith it stinks of here wanting to open up Greenfields sites to her cronies without having to develop the infrastructure, although Labour seem no different.

      Anyway, I’m convinced the Government doesn’t want to do anything on housing, they will see the UP working and consents going up and that will do for them. It’s not like they don’t already have a huge amount of land at the Unitec site that they could be working on the infrastructure straight away. In a crisis this area should be underway already.

      It’s really time Labour used their political clout for this, they might lose some voters in the Villa belts if they have any there anyway but its really time to start developing our inner city suburbs like literally every other City on the planet.

    2. I think a lot of people were scared of their property value going down when actually it goes up. That place in Avondale is a classic example: I bet it wouldn’t be worth anything like $2 mil if it was in a single house zone.
      Not that it matters: our planning rules should not be based on retaining existing house prices.
      Personally I think all planning should only involve a compass and circles around the city centre / train stations / etc. That seems like the only fair way to do it. The unitary plan looks more like an attempt to pick out the people that will complain the least rather than a sensible plan based on providing density where it is needed.

      1. There is a large blob of THAB zone in Northcote. However not only is it not near rapid transit, it is not even particularly close to any frequent bus routes. I have long wondered “Why Northcote?”

        Why not a bit west, in Birkenhead? Or a bit east, where Takapuna Village was meant to go?

        Then, open a map of the Deprivation Index and spot the coincidence (or not).

        1. Yes, that was land owned by the then Housing New Zealand (now Kainga Ora), who was pushing for greater intensification on all land they owned across Auckland (which is heaps). And look at them now – they’re leading the charge in decent quality medium density housing.

  2. Every time I go past the old Warehouse site on Dominion Road I wonder why we don’t have hundreds of people living there. Is it because the neighbours kicked up such a fuss that we can’t have progress in an area with excellent public transport?

  3. People are not so keen on gardening. On some properties the garden is overrun sometimes with invasive weeds. Apartment living has a poor reputation amongst some people but actually increasing numbers of people are finding apartment living is good. I have been to several apartments and they are modern and attractive. people have more time for social activities rather than spending hours commuting. National and their supporters say they are the party that understands and supports business but encouraging greenfields developments,huge 4 lane highways, more congestion and more travel costs for families is poor business. Reducing costs and making living better for families is good business

    1. Apartment living IS good… as long as you don’t have to walk on a 5 lane highway every time you open the door. One advantage of suburbs is not even the backyard, it is that the streets are not as ferally unpleasant as they are in the city centre.

      I would shut up about apartments for now, and hope the council hurries up with its Access to Everyone plan.

  4. It would help if we got rid of some of the volcanic view shaft restrictions especially in the CBD and fringe. That way you could actually build up in places like K Rd/Freeman’s Bay etc. within the CBD area itself there should be no maximum height limit at all (and really should be a height minimum restriction instead).

    1. the viewshafts are a sham, people get up in arms about them without realising what they are and where they apply. Nobody wants 20 storey blocks up on the bases of our Maunga but to protect views for drivers on busy motorways where they should be looking at the road is insane, utter madness. Half the CBD is literally wall to wall 12 storey blocks with no setbacks all because of these stupid planning rules.

      1. I always wonder why a persons view from a car is more important than another persons view from their apartment. The view is so important we can’t let people live where they can see it, only drive.

        1. One of life’s great mysteries is why there are still used car yards on GNR between KRd and Surry Cres. On multi million dollar land, a non descript building selling refilled cartridges, it just makes no sense at all. And then down the hill from the Grey Lynn shops, frozen in the 1940s.

      2. I wasn’t referring to building on the volcanos or even next to them Joe. I was referring to the many parts of Auckland (but more specifically the cbd and fringe) that have ridiculous view shaft height limits in them. In fact the CBD is almost out of suitable property to develop skyscrapers on! Given that we normally see about 3 built per decade on average there won’t be any options for tall buildings without tearing down existing high rises soon.

        1. I know you were, what I am saying is that most general public don’t even understand where the viewshafts lie and what they are protecting. They get precious over protecting them but have zero understanding of where they are. If you were to actually tell them that you cant buold above x floors in Newmarket because you need to see Rangitoto for half a second as you drive past they might think differently of them.

  5. Christchurch is actually reasonably constrained as well. The Port Hills to the south, the ocean to the east and the Waimakariri River to the north. In addition the council has maintained a relatively tight noose to the west due to the high quality of soils.

    The city hasn’t exapanded much in 30 years, what happened post quake was a massive expansion in the move to the satellite towns, especially Rolleston and Rangiora. This move has been disastrous for the cities traffic, especially to the north where there are only two bridges across the Waimakariri.

      1. Just looked at where the rail goes in chch, looks like it has really solid potential. It would all boil down to if it would be faster than the congestion, and as cost effective as buses.

  6. This is a good idea and so.ething similar should happen in every tier 1 and 2 local body in the country. However if it did, Collins and every other National electorate MP would be outraged.

  7. “The government is rapidly ramping up the production of state houses”
    In the year to June 2019, 1461 new state houses were built.
    They expect to build 1494 in the year to June 2021.
    These numbers are a drop in the bucket compared with what is required. Its as much of a failure as the 10,000 p.a. kiwibuild houses.
    Yes Auckland is different to the rest of the country. It is the place for high rise apartment towers built in town centres and adjacent to PT hubs, and there is urgent need.
    The government needs to step in and take real action, not just tinker around the edges with endless committees, plans and policy statements.
    e.g. apartment towers at Orakei station, Mt Albert shops, Dom Rd, etc.
    https://kaingaora.govt.nz/assets/Publications/Annual-report/HNZ16284-Annual-Report-2019-v22b.pdf

  8. Shouldn’t this be titled “The state of Auckland’s houses” since it’s entirely about Auckland, which isn’t “the nation”?

  9. It is good to see an opposition leader attacking planning doctrine rather than minorities. I mean it is a step forward.

  10. Looking at that map above it definitely looks like west Auckland is getting most of the development.
    That is likely due to the city rail link.

    1. A huge chunk of West Auckland’s development is far away from the Western Line – i.e. Westgate/Redhills/Kumeu etc, hence the future plans for rapid transit links. They’re probably needed sooner rather than later, if not already.

      1. Yes probably fewer nimbys, but also some smarter councillors at the time who internally pushed for more growth as they saw it would create lower cost housing and more jobs – unlike central suburb councillors who were complaining about loss of character and supported by very vocal and high-profile lobby groups.

  11. An extra note.
    I also support intensification, my suburb is also having many of it’s standalone homes removed for town houses. But I am disappointed with the quality of design.
    We have many low quality developments often from chinese developers, and these make kainga ora homes look designer.

      1. Yuck. And you aren’t allowed to change any of the colours until everyone in the housing association dies.
        They are still painting some new builds in brown / tan / etc. There is a bunch near us all with the same awful colour scheme. Makes you wonder why you would spend millions building a bunch of houses and not fork out a few k for a colour consultant.

        1. The cream units across the street with the bars covering some windows definitely looking odd.
          And who gets green joinery these day, always stick to the white, silver, Gray or Black for joinery, will not date.

        2. Hang on.

          Are you saying that you know for a fact that these houses have a HOA?

          That would be funny if it weren’t so tragically stupid.

    1. Poor quality design is an unsurprising result of the constraints developers operate under:
      – If you want to build the most house possible on the section you have available then the limiting factor becomes planning restrictions. They dictate certain boundary offsets, height limits, recession planes etc. The largest house you can build is a generic box.
      – Property development is high risk so you want to build the easiest house possible to minimise the build time and risk of cost overruns, then sell it as soon as you can. The lowest cost per square metre house is a generic box.
      – First home buyers won’t pay a premium for great architecture because they can’t afford to be picky. Property investors won’t pay a premium for great architecture because they’ll be able to find tenants regardless. Those two groups of buyers are a large proportion of the market.

      Also:
      – All property developers, like any business, are seeking to maximise profits. Their ethnic background isn’t relevant to the discussion.
      – Building design / aesthetics is very subjective. NZ has been building low cost housing with little aesthetic value for a long time now. The original wooden villas of our older suburbs were originally economy houses for the working class but now people think there’s something special about them.

      1. +1

        Investor and first home buyers want maximum floor space for the lowest money. Box design with flat roof is most space efficient and cheapest to build.

        Quality and aesthetics is luxury in that market.

        1. And would be very expensive to ensure in European nations due to water pooling on the roof damaging it.

          Flat roofs on private dwellings should be illegal in places with high rainfall like NZ.

      2. I assume these constraints also help the developers. A house in Te Atatu was sold within 4 hrs of owners telling real estate agent they wanted to sell. It was demolished within 2 weeks and less than 2 weeks from that 5 of the scheduled 11 one bedroom units are listed as sold. Reckon just having one basic plan allowed it through all the consent process really quickly.

      3. Yes getting the maximum profit out of a development will always be priority, which fitting more onto a section and keeping the design simple is key.
        But good design can come from the cheapest materials, like cylinder block, painted brick, shiplap redwood weather boards and long run colour steel.
        Good design doesn’t need to be fancy.
        A square box with cheap materials used in the right places is good design.
        I just whish there was some sort or requirement for developers to work with an architect even just for the cladding systems.
        Most developers do get it right though.
        I also whish there was some way to upload photos to this chat feed so we can share examples.

  12. Why is the implementation of the NPS-UD dragged out until 2024!?? Just ridiculous, so casual and lacking any sense of urgency. It was announced last year, make it effective this year, 12 months is more than enough with the housing crisis.

    1. The government could give themselves powers similar to the ones Collins is talking about to force some upzoning now.

    2. The removal of parking minimums has to be implemented by Feb 2022, so a little sooner for that part. The lead in time is for councils to update their plans. Still feels like an age though.

  13. What I have seen here is nobody has mention the house showen at the top of tthe page , is it a rental or is it privately owned either way it justs needs a good paint job to protect it . And then new base boards and the iron replaced on the decks sun room and then it could be a lovely old place .

    1. If it’s the one I think it is, it’s owner occupied but the owner has just sold to a developer to pretty much set them up for retirement.

      It’ll get knocked down. You may well be right but it’s not really the ideal use of a prime location.

    2. All over Auckland at present, older houses are getting demolished and new, smaller, taller houses are being built in their place. I went to a place in Mt Roskill last month – where 4 state houses had been, each on a largish (quarter-acre ?) section. Each section had been subdivided into 2, and a new, small/ugly 2 storey house was being built by Kainga Ora. So that’s going from 4 dwellings to 8 dwellings – yes, technically a doubling, but still way too low I would have thought. The land has been tied up for the last 50 years or more, and will now be tied up for the next 50.

      It seems to me that a brilliant opportunity to really make a difference is being lost. Nobody should be building 2 stories high any more in ‘central’ Auckland suburbs – and certainly with ‘state’ houses, we should be aiming at developments 4-5 stories high. That could improve the amount of housing from 4 houses to about 32 apartments – making a really true difference.

      We need AKL to stop making small steps and join the big league…

      1. Yes. There aren’t many developers able to work at the scale KO is working at. They have the opportunity to create gorgeous perimeter block housing developments, with internal parks and cohesive street frontages and mixed use ground floors… All at high density and with high amenity.

  14. More dwellings should be built in the THAB zone, however the set back/boundary rules make it hard to build the desired maximum density on smaller sections.

    That’s why you hardly see any 3-6 story developments.

    I would suggest to tweak the set back rules to make high density development more feasible.

    1. There’s also a cost implication. You can’t just ‘add a floor’ or ‘lose a floor’ economically. It usually works in chunks of floors. Three storeys is generally the most anyone will tolerate without an elevator. Have you ever lived in a three storey home or on the top of a three, four or five storey walk-up? “So many stairs!!” [Hulk]. But elevators are expensive to build and to maintain, so if it’s a small building with only a few apartments per floor then it is uneconomic to install. This can be one of the reasons we don’t see many four or five storey buildings.

      1. I have lived in four storeys up stairs in England, and seven storeys up in France! It is something you get used to. Certainly doesn’t suit everyone but the option exists – these being old buildings where retrofitting an elevator wouldn’t make much sense.

      2. 3 stories is also the maximum number of levels before the Building Act requires provision of elevators (in addition to stairs). So more floorspace taken out and a massive increase in build costs that may not be recoverable though the reduced floorplat/more units. Thats why most developments are either 5/6+ . Smaller sites are also more difficult to get to theoretical max height with HIRB, setbacks, outlook/privacy requirements and outdoor space etc. Removal of parking rules may not necessarily be a big issue esp in Auckland where parking rules are already weakened, as developers may still seek to provide parking and where they do this also takes out a lot of ground area for access and manoeuvring – under grounding faces the same issues as elevators which is why it is also rare excepting the highest value land

        1. *for some reason the comment dropped some text “Thats why most developments are ‘less than or equal to 3’ or ‘greater than’ 5 or 6 plus levels”

  15. Our housing crisis has 5 main planks:
    i) worldwide low interest rates driving up asset prices
    ii) no/limited land tax/capital/capital gains/wealth tax pushing up housing prices
    iii) excessive immigration beyond that needed to maximise total welfare per capita growth
    iv) under provision of social housing by government
    v) An RMA with unjustified land use and density restrictions central government has failed to reform

    There should be no zoning and density restrictions at all except those that are justified in a national standard or policy statement through cost benefit analysis and impact assessment.

    We do not need urban plans stacked as high as the skytower full of rules that planners have written and who do not bear the cost of those rules, along with the rules not undergoing individual cost/benefit and/or regulatory impact assessment.

    The impact of climate change legislation on planning is coming and NZ needs the ability to implement 3 storey walk ups of mixed use at PT nodes & hubs without RMA restrictions.

    It would also be useful to see the bus component of PT systems transform to a point to point, hub to hub and hub to point system (similar to airlines) with the last mile served by Maas, electric scooters & autonomous on-demand PT.

    1. I agree mostly with one exception, “autonomous on-demand PT”, we have a pretty reasonable solution already. Bikes. Especially if we’re talking about the last mile, 5km, 20minute bike option. Build big bike storage at rail stations, with a share bike option for people who don’t have a bike and need one at their destination station. It removes the hills argument too, go to your nearest station on the flat. Tried and tested overseas, they’ve already done the R&D and risky part. I’m not saying that autonomous PT wont be a part of a future transport network, but it would be very unwise to rely on its forthcoming or predicted effectiveness.

      1. Agreed, the last mile needs to be a mix of options.

        However there are people in society that are poor and not physically capable of riding bikes & scooters & cannot afford taxis.

        Some sort of vehicle based hub to home & home to hub on demand service needs to be provided if PT is to be hub & point based.

        It could be subsidised uber et al, or autonomous / standard PT shuttle.

        1. https://youtu.be/xSGx3HSjKDo

          I agree that there is a subset of the population that fits into this category and it should be catered for with services like you said. But I believe this population is a lot smaller than you think. And it would depend on just how hub and spoke you would want to make the transit network. Removing existing train stations I would think would be too far. Taking out some bus stops here and there I can get behind. The 30 on manukau road is kind of crazy and frustrating when you’re on it. But if what you mean is town centre to town centre with no stops in between then nah, goes against most evidence for what would make a good PT network from Auckland’s current position. Down the line relief lines would make sense.

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