Hous­ing op­tions in the spot­light

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

Out of the blue, hous­ing pol­icy has be­come the plat­form from which our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in­tend to re­spond to so­cial needs.

Labour leader David Shearer kicked things off at his party’s last an­nual con­fer­ence, when he un­veiled an am­bi­tious plan to build 100,000 low-cost homes over a 10-year pe­riod.

Two-thirds of them would be built in Auck­land, and first-home buy­ers – ac­cord­ing to Shearer – would be able to buy a mod­est house for $300,000.

The pol­icy would be fi­nanced by $ 1.5 bil­lion in hous­ing bonds. Ap­par­ently this plan would de­liver a net ben­e­fit by in­ject­ing $2 bil­lion an­nu­ally into the econ­omy, in con­struc­tion ac­tiv­ity and re­lated jobs.

Much of the crit­i­cism lev­elled at Labour’s plan has turned on whether houses can ac­tu­ally be built for the price stated, and whether even a $300,000 home is af­ford­able to low-in­come fam­i­lies.

Plainly, many would strug­gle to raise the de­posit and main­tain their mort­gage re­pay­ments, given that many fam­ily bread­win­ners are poorly paid, with lit­tle in the way of job se­cu­rity.

Re­gard­less, last week’s polls showed Labour’s pol­icy has struck a pos­i­tive chord with vot­ers.

Na­tional, for its part, has treated house prices as be­ing largely a re­flec­tion of the land zon­ing and con­sent poli­cies that coun­cils have adopted.

In a speech last week, Prime Min­is­ter John Key re­peated the theme that quicker, more flex­i­ble de­ci­sion-mak­ing by coun­cils that made more land avail­able to de­vel­op­ers would bring down house prices to within reach of those most in need.

Late last year, Auck­land mayor Len Brown tried to flag that while the re­sul­tant ur­ban sprawl might ben­e­fit de­vel­op­ers, it would also cre­ate ad­di­tional costs in in­fra­struc­ture that some­body – ratepay­ers – would have to pay for.

Key in­di­cated that later this year Na­tional would re­lease fur- ther de­tails of its af­ford­abil­ity package.

The Greens – the third en­trant in the hous­ing pol­icy stakes – also un­veiled their own pro­gramme last week.

Their package si­mul­ta­ne­ously tack­les the prob­lems of home buy­ers and ren­ters with a) a rentto- buy mech­a­nism for grad­ual home-own­er­ship, b) a ‘‘war­rant of fit­ness’’ of ba­sic qual­ity stan­dards that all prop­er­ties put up for rent would have to meet and c) a pro­posal that rent in­creases should hap­pen only once a year, thereby giv­ing ren­ters a mea­sure of home se­cu­rity, and a greater abil­ity to bud­get for their hous­ing costs.

In fact, while it was the rent-to­buy el­e­ment that earned the me­dia head­lines last week, that as­pect seemed far more like a pi­lot pro­gramme than an en­ti­tle-

hous­ing ment avail­able to ev­ery­one on day one.

The Greens have a pol­icy of build­ing 2000 new homes a year.

Within that 2000 an­nual tar­get, the rent- to- buy mech­a­nism of grad­ual own­er­ship would com­prise only a mod­est strand of the pro­gramme.

How­ever, it would ex­tend some as­sis­tance to those fam­i­lies with few re­sources and poor job se­cu­rity – the fam­i­lies cur­rently at risk, and most in need of government help.

With all three par­ties, fur­ther de­tails will fol­low.

Cur­rently though, ev­ery po­lit­i­cal party seems to be singing in tune with the Rolling Stones’ clas­sic Gimme Shel­ter . . . You know, the one that goes, ‘‘If I don’t get some shel­ter/ Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away . . .’’

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