4 Sep 2019

KiwiBuild: government to unveil 'reset' for flagship policy

9:20 am on 4 September 2019

Two housing experts have given up on KiwiBuild before the reset has even been announced.

Megan Woods

Housing Minister Megan Woods. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Housing Minister Megan Woods is set to unveil the government's KiwiBuild recalibration today - seven months and one demoted minister after it was first announced - but there's plenty of scepticism as to what, if anything, can be done to get Labour's flagship policy back on track.

The plan was to build 1000 homes in the first year, 5000 in the second, 10,000 the year after, and then 12,000 every year after that, with 100,000 houses in the decade.

The reality is a long way off, with just 258 houses built.

In this announcement Ms Woods faces her biggest test yet, and economist and housing specialist Shamubeel Eaqub said he was not convinced she would be able to pull it off.

Shamubeel Eaqub

Economist and housing specialist Shamubeel Eaqub. Photo: Supplied

"I've always been a KiwiBuild sceptic. The real areas where the government can play a role is where the market fails," he said.

"Where the market fails is in providing housing for poor people and providing high-quality secure-tenure rental properties and unless the government gets involved in those parts I'm not sure what KiwiBuild's trying to achieve."

In Mr Eaqub's mind, KiwiBuild is a distraction because the problems with land supply and development are not things it can solve.

"I think the big problem with KiwiBuild was it's a solution in search of a problem.

"It wants to essentially side step all the fundamental issues in terms of why home ownership has fallen and was hoping that by government being involved in building it would improve home ownership rates."

John Minto from the State Housing Action Network told Morning Report: "One thing is the thing we need - I think this Labour government needs to go back to its knitting, which is what New Zealand did back in the 1940s when we had a similar housing crisis with returning soldiers from the second World War and we were building 10,000 state houses a year at that time ... We need a state housing building programme on that scale."

Ramping up the construction of state housing would reduce pressure on other areas of the housing market, he said.

"That brings the opportunity for rents to come down. If we really focus hard on getting people on low incomes into state housing and rent to buy houses then it eases pressure on the housing market."

Housing consultant Leonie Freeman wanted to see three things from the reset:

  • Clear targets and a plan for how to achieve them
  • An understanding that the issue wasn't just about building houses, but how to get pople into them - for example, shared ownership or rent-to-buy schemes
  • Better data and information in the housing sector including what is happening in homelessness, social housing and affordable housing

Auckland University of Technology professor John Tookey also said he could not see a future for KiwiBuild with an election so close.

"The initiative has been lost and we're going to very rapidly count down to an election. At that point all of the key promises will be used as a political bludgeon to beat up on the government. It's kind of inevitable at this stage," he said.

"It's going to be hard for them to get on the front foot again."

Mr Tookey and Mr Eaqub agree that an easy win on the board for the government would be to announce a rent-to-own scheme, something which is already part of the Labour/Greens' supply and confidence agreement.

While Mr Eaqub argues it would not affect a very large group of people, Mr Tookey said it should have already have happened regardless.

"It's an excellent way of doing business and I would heartedly commend it and frankly it should have been at the centre of the original KiwiBuild plan.''

KiwiBuild has been dogged by failures since its launch, not least the humiliating admission it would fall well short of its targets.

Politically it has been nothing short of a trainwreck and National's housing spokesperson Judith Collins said she doubted it could be saved.

Judith Collins at the Select Committee hearings.

National party housing spokesperson Judith Collins Photo: RNZ

"I don't think it's possible to get KiwiBuild back on track, because it's never been on track. The whole thing is simply misconceived because what has made it more difficult for people to get houses built is a lack of reform in the Resource Management Act and also the planning rules coming from that," Ms Collins said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is remaining tight-lipped, but said the policy was always about affordable housing.

"Of course that's not the only thing we have to be focused on. I think that's been one of the issues we've had, we've tried to solve many problems with one programme.

"Actually, it's got to be about state housing, transitional housing, emergency housing and homelessness and actually on all those other areas we're making good progress," she said.

The KiwiBuild dream has long been criticised for being just that - a dream.

The pressure is now on Ms Woods to bring it to life.

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