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Why can't we house everyone?

By Laura Black in All Sorts

figuring out the housing problem and how to balance this with our own riches

According to How Rich Am I? | Giving What We Can my house is on the global rich list: it earnt more last year than 99% of the world’s population.
In fact, my house earnt not quite double the median income in New Zealand, but paid no taxes, so after tax, my house earnt 21⁄4 times what the median worker did.
(It’s really not that flash of a house, either, we’ve just noticed the outside light on the garage has fallen off, and the gate to the back garden has rotted through at the base, and we have to keep the washing machine in the basement which you can only get to by going outside, so what I’m
saying is, it is doing pretty well for a being a creaky old girl.)
Currently, New Zealand has an estimated housing shortage of around 100,000 homes, that’s roughly 260,000 people – including children – living in deeply insecure, wildly inappropriate, almost certainly very unhealthy, circumstances. 22,000 of those families are on the URGENT waiting list for a state house. That means too many of them are currently living in their cars or in garages.
There are on top of this, probably around another 100,000 homes (or 260,000 people) that are at significant risk of the effects of climate change: sea level rise for South Dunedin and the Taieri obviously, but
also flood prone areas like Lower Hutt.
So, right now, we need probably 200,000 new homes to be being thought of in someone’s planning. At least half of which need to be for low-income families.
But we’re adding to our population of 5ish million by around 100,000 a year. Immigration is a part of that, but births in excess of deaths is doing a great deal of the heavy lifting (it’s not just births, folks are dying later too). So that’s around 40,000 homes worth a year being added, eventually of course, those new bubs aren’t moving out just yet! But they will. And the bubs of 20 years ago are definitely moving out now.
Which is why house prices are going through the roof, when demand exceeds supply, the price goes up.
So, why aren’t we building more?

But land is expensive, and reticulating new suburbs is prohibitively so.

New Zealand builds around 30,000 new houses a year. It fluctuates, but that’s the most recent “high”. Yet most of them are not for low-income families, and of course that’s not enough for even our natural population growth.
Mostly, to my horror, it is people like me. (Not actually me, but people who have the same education, social class, income profile, and age bracket as me.)
My people don’t want greater urban density. We seem to think that the suburbs can be expanded for ever, and that’s what councils should do.
Public transport (low income whānau, remember) can’t make money from urban sprawl, there aren’t enough passengers per kilometre.
As a result, on the Taieri, in Nelson, and in Pukekohe (from personal experience) really good quality arable land is now being transformed into sections.
Councils, of course, are already cash strapped because ratepayers want low rates and infrastructure repairs have been deferred now for decades.
But my people don’t want to pay more in rates. Or in public transport subsidies. And we don’t want noisy, “crowded”, higher density building changing the nature of “our” neighbourhoods.
Above all, we don’t want our property values to decrease, or for our lifestyle to have to change. Which is why no government will lose our votes by putting in a capital gains tax. Or even raising taxes to fund more
infrastructure and building.
But there are now 520,000 people in New Zealand who are either without a home or about to be without a home. And we’re falling behind at the rate of about 20,000 people a year.
We’re about to find out that we can get everyone inoculated. Last year we found out that we can keep everyone paid.
But we can’t house everyone?
Laura Black
Kaihautū Director
Methodist Mission Southern