Twyford eager to make tracks
Henry Cooke meets the action man tasked with housing and transport.
Phil Twyford has a lot to do.
The new housing, transport, and urban development minister has been one of National’s more persistent critics over the last term, needling the government on rocketing house prices, rising rents, and the tax breaks that make it possible.
But the time for criticism – for lobbing well-researched statistics and zingers at Nick Smith from across the House – is over. Now he has to fix any time.
The 54-year-old Te Atatu MP freely admits the list of promises is long: A ban on foreigners buying existing homes by Christmas. The end of letting fees, damp flats, and rent hikes every six months by the end of next year. A dozen or so new Auckland suburbs, all hooked up with new transport infrastructure and filled with affordable KiwiBuild homes by 2027. A regional fuel tax – soon – to fund light rail in Auckland.
‘‘I haven’t quite adjusted to the idea that we now have the ability to do this. We have this enormous opportunity to make change,’’ he told the Sunday Star-Times hours into his new job, surrounded by moving boxes in his old Opposition office.
Twyford came it, and he isn’t into wasting politics in 2008 after working decades for development agency Oxfam after setting up the New Zealand branch. In 2011, he took on housing, already worried about the rapidly-rising market.
Since then he’s had plenty of wins, and one disastrous stumble: the appalling ‘‘Chinese-sounding names’’ press release, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern now admits she was ‘‘uncomfortable’’ with – but won’t actually apologise for.
‘‘I’ve said publicly now that I regret the way I handled that issue. I regret that the effect of what I did was that many Chinese New Zealanders felt like they were being got at,’’ Twyford says.
He says National used the incident to draw attention away from serious housing issues.
But the taunts from Steven Joyce will now be coming from the Opposition benches, and Twyford is confident he has a mandate to fundamentally change housing.
‘‘No one thinks that the housing situation is okay. Every day that goes by is a night when another New Zealander is sleeping in their car, or in a doorway. And we’re better than that.
‘‘I think most people realise that it’s time we treated housing no longer primarily as an investment asset but as a place to live and raise your family.’’
Twyford is adamant that he can fix housing affordability without crashing the market. Instead, he wants stability.
But the big $2 billion kahuna is KiwiBuild – 100,000 affordable homes built in the next 10 years.
Half will be in Auckland, where standalone homes will be $600,000 and under, townhouses less.
The strategy ranges from buying houses off the plan straight from developers, to ‘‘really ambitious’’ projects – creating new suburbs of thousands of homes.
‘‘The government will come in and invest in the transport infrastructure, build the schools, the open spaces and parks, set the design standard, and then bring the private sector in to build the homes.’’
Giving housing and transport to one man could be a masterstroke by Ardern, as the two sectors need to be working in perfect harmony.
But the challenge ahead of Twyford is building a light rail system and tens of thousands of homes simultaneously. He’ll have to get moving. and will apartments and be $500,000 or
Phil Twyford was a strong critic of the previous government, now he has to front up.