How we got here: housing

There’s a lot written about housing in Aotearoa New Zealand but one piece we’d recommend in early 2024…

It’s a piece by Eleanor West and Marko Garlick, pillars of the Wellington pro-density urbanism movement A City For People. It’s called Upzoning New Zealand, published in the online magazine Works In Progress.

The standfirst says it all:

New Zealand passed the most ambitious upzoning reforms in the world. Now comes the backlash.

It first summarises where we are in a way that’s actually helpful – because we’ve been talking about “NZ’s housing crisis” for a few years now. And as with all big important things, if we’re not personally suffering the razor edge of that crisis daily, our short attention spans start to kick in and, embarrassingly, we feel a bit of …crisis fatigue. And when that relatively recent acknowledgement and (beginnings of) action comes on the back of 30-plus years of being told “high house prices are gooood”, it’s easy to collectively forget how bonkers a situation our power-holders have created.

And having forgotten a little bit, it’s helpful to be reminded of this because we’re continuing to do bonkers stuff. As the article goes on to explain, something that seems so good, so basic – allowing lots more people to live close to things that people want to do – is far from “commonsense policy”. (And indeed, there are strong movements around the country of people resisting that very thing, including in our nation’s capital.)

Perhaps the lesson is that a well-targeted stick [the MDRS] can work on select areas. But in the absence of plentiful carrots for local government, it is too brittle a tool to use on the whole country all at once – in the end, the political consensus at the central government level was too fragile.

The article’s section on how we got here – “New Zealand’s Planning Laws” – is a great companion read to the seminal report from Te Waihanga on NZ’s housing supply. As the readership of Works In Progress is largely non-New Zealand, it assumes no knowledge (helpful!) and the whole section is a great bluffer’s guide.

Other features include focuses on the effect of Auckland and Christchurch and – yes – unequivocal facts and figures about the seemingly sticky doubt over whether adding more homes improves affordability. There’s great graphs and some fantastic before/after shots from Google Streetview of more homes blooming in Auckland and Christchurch.

All up, it’s a long but always-engaging read. It’s one of those articles to bookmark on your browser: its clear sentences are thick with hyperlinks to robust references that are great go-to’s for all those dinner table, pub or playcentre conversations about this damn crisis that (apparently) we still need reminding that we should fix.

So just get into it!

Companion reading:

Great news: building new housing makes old housing cheaper – economist Stuart Donovan on The Spinoff

The decline of housing supply in New Zealand: Why it happened and how to reverse it – Te Waihanga | The Infrastructure Commission

Image credit:

  • Upper Greys Avenue flats (designed; Gordon Wilson, completed 1958) picture 1964 NZ Herald ref 120810NZHFLATS – Te Ara

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