Hous­ing prob­lem won’t go away


The blame for the lack of af­ford­able hous­ing tends to be spread far and wide. Is it be­cause the zon­ing by­laws in Auck­land un­duly re­strict where houses can be built? Has the lack of a sig­nif­i­cant cap­i­tal gains tax fed spec­u­la­tion, and driven up house prices?

For ide­o­log­i­cal rea­sons, has the Govern­ment sold off too much of the coun­try’s state hous­ing stock, and built too few re­place­ments? Have for­eign­ers caused house prices to spi­ral out of con­trol?

Last week, the spot­light shifted away from the bar­ri­ers to mid­dle­class home own­er­ship, and on to the ways the hous­ing cri­sis is hurt­ing the poor.

Sud­denly, the fam­i­lies liv­ing in cars, ship­ping con­tain­ers and garages be­came vis­i­ble in the me­dia, and they be­gan telling sto­ries of des­per­ate need.

Ini­tially, the Govern­ment re­sponse was one of de­nial and/ or of blam­ing the vic­tim. The prob­lem was noth­ing new, Prime Min­is­ter John Key told Ra­dio New Zealand, and he would be ‘‘amazed’’ if such peo­ple ex­isted in sig­nif­i­cant num­bers.

Th­ese peo­ple, Key added, should make them­selves known to Work and In­come New Zealand, and get ac­cess to their en­ti­tle­ments.

Sub­se­quently though, the peo­ple who had con­tacted Winz re­ported how they had been put into emer­gency mo­tel ac­com­mo­da­tion and pushed fur­ther into debt, be­cause Winz had billed them for the costs.

Crit­ics also pointed out that the ac­com­mo­da­tion sup­ple­ment had been frozen for years, and was set at a max­i­mum en­ti­tle­ment of $200 a week – an in­ad­e­quate sum in a city where rents are com­monly dou­ble or triple that amount.

Un­der fire, the Govern­ment ex­plained that it had re­cently al­lo­cated $41 mil­lion for ex­tra emer­gency hous­ing, and an ad­di­tional $2 mil­lion for very tem­po­rary emer­gency sup­port.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the Op­po­si­tion par­ties have been quick to cap­i­talise on an is­sue where govern­ment pol­icy has seemed to be un­car­ing, and in­ad­e­quate.

The Greens, for in­stance, put for­ward a pro­posal whereby the $207 mil­lion an­nual dividend that Hous­ing New Zealand is cur­rently pay­ing into the govern­ment cof­fers would be redi­rected into build­ing 450 homes a year.

Mean­while, army bases and camp­ing grounds were be­ing sug­gested as tem­po­rary shel­ters.

Any longer-term so­lu­tions will need to tackle the short­fall in state hous­ing that suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have failed to ad­dress.

For some time, the Key Govern­ment has been call­ing for coun­cil by­laws in Auck­land to be changed, so that more land can be made avail­able out at the city’s mar­gins. Oth­ers have ar­gued that higher-den­sity hous­ing should be al­lowed within the cur­rent city bound­aries. Both th­ese so­lu­tions have ma­jor im­pli­ca­tions for trans­port pol­icy.

Inevitably, any by­laws that re­strict high-den­sity hous­ing – or that al­low rib­bon de­vel­op­ment – will push work­ers away from the city cen­tre, re­quire longer com­mut­ing times and add to traf­fic con­ges­tion and pol­lu­tion.

Some­how, high-den­sity hous­ing has to be made far more at­trac­tive, po­lit­i­cally.

In New York, the new mayor has of­fered to re­lax the city by­laws on den­sity, height and park­ing, as long as de­vel­op­ers in­clude af­ford­able and se­nior cit­i­zen hous­ing.

By such means, af­flu­ent fam­i­lies can en­joy the ur­ban life­style they de­sire and the city can be made more af­ford­able for lower-in­come fam­i­lies, too.

Talk­ing pol­i­tics

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