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.