A cun­ning plan

The Northland Age - - Opinion -

Ki­wibuild is be­gin­ning to look more and more like no more than one of Ed­mund Black­ad­der’s cun­ning plans. While last week’s con­tro­versy about the cou­ple get­ting the first Ki­wibuild home is noth­ing like the drama Na­tional is mak­ing it out to be, it is nev­er­the­less just an­other ex­am­ple of the pol­icy’s shift­ing sands. It is worth re­call­ing that in its elec­tion pol­icy just one year ago Labour promised that it would “build 100,000 high-qual­ity af­ford­able homes over 10 years”. The pol­icy went on to talk about curb­ing home­less­ness through build­ing af­ford­able homes in the $350-$450,000 price range. The im­pli­ca­tion was un­am­bigu­ous - Labour’s ap­proach was go­ing to be far more ac­tivist than Na­tional, and Ki­wibuild would be its pri­mary pol­icy to deal with home­less­ness and the hous­ing cri­sis.

The not un­rea­son­able be­lief con­se­quently emerged that Labour would get on top of the hous­ing cri­sis, in a way that Na­tional never could. Given the gen­eral view of the time that Na­tional had let the hous­ing cri­sis get well away from them, with­out too many ideas of how to re­solve it, Ki­wibuild be­gan to look as though it might just be the fresh ap­proach needed.

How dif­fer­ent things look one year later. So far, just 18 Ki­wibuild homes have been built, and an­other 447 are on track for com­ple­tion by July 2019, leav­ing a short­fall of 535 on its first-year 1000 homes tar­get. Put an­other way, a first-year achieve­ment rate of just un­der 47 per cent. And there has been a sub­tle but clear re­write of the Ki­wibuild ob­jec­tive.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ki­wibuild web­site, the ob­jec­tive is now the much more pas­sive one to “de­liver 100,000 homes for first home-buy­ers over the next decade”.

So, no longer will the gov­ern­ment build “100,000 high-qual­ity af­ford­able homes”. And no longer does “af­ford­able” mean $350-$450,000, but $650,000. More­over, now the plan is merely to “de­liver” 100,000 homes, which, in the best Black­ad­der fash­ion, means ac­cu­mu­lat­ing all the new homes al­ready be­ing built over the next 10

years by the pri­vate sec­tor any­way, and dress­ing them up as Ki­wibuild homes.

And by in­tro­duc­ing the new qual­i­fier of “homes for first-home buy­ers” the gov­ern­ment can bet­ter tai­lor its plans to fit with what the build­ing com­pa­nies are cur­rently do­ing any­way, and mar­ket it all un­der the Ki­wibuild la­bel.

Any sugges­tion that Ki­wibuild will mean 100,000 more houses be­ing built than might oth­er­wise be the case has long since van­ished. All that is hap­pen­ing is that ex­ist­ing plans are be­ing branded un­der the Ki­wibuild la­bel, which is win-win for both the gov­ern­ment and the in­dus­try.

There­fore, in re­al­ity Ki­wibuild is a very clever strat­egy of the gov­ern­ment do­ing very lit­tle, but mak­ing it look like a lot, and all the while be­ing able to milk many photo op­por­tu­ni­ties for min­is­ters as the still un­com­mon achieve­ment of each house be­ing com­pleted hap­pens.

Mean­while, the home­less Labour was so con­cerned about in the lead up to last year’s elec­tion re­main home­less, with not much ap­par­ently be­ing done to meet their needs. A spe­cific ini­tia­tive is the Sweat Eq­uity pro­gramme, but it is only avail­able for 6400 homes, and is un­likely to be suf­fi­cient to house the many home­less fam­i­lies Labour used to fo­cus its at­ten­tion on.

In ad­di­tion, over the next four years the gov­ern­ment is plan­ning to in­crease the pub­lic hous­ing stock by a nett 1000 over the to­tal pro­jected un­der the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment last year, likely to still be less than the to­tal num­ber cur­rently on hous­ing wait­ing lists.

Mind you, given that its own record on hous­ing is hardly one to crow about, Na­tional is not go­ing to be taken se­ri­ously on this is­sue for a while yet, mak­ing some of its cur­rent crit­i­cisms a lit­tle hard to take. The pub­lic mem­ory is not that short. So, de­spite the crit­i­cisms, the ben­e­fit of the cred­i­bil­ity doubt still lies with Labour - just.

Nev­er­the­less, when the mar­ket­ing awards are next given out, Ki­wibuild de­serves first prize as a cun­ning plan, well mar­keted, but de­liv­er­ing very lit­tle and chang­ing not very much, while all the time leav­ing peo­ple feel­ing good about the gov­ern­ment’s warmth and kind­ness. Not even Black­ad­der and Baldrick in their hey­day could ever have been as de­vi­ous. PETER DUNNE


Peter Dunne says Ki­wibuild de­serves first prize as a cun­ning plan.

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