Bernard is an economics columnist for the NZ Herald

Bernard Hickey: Time for action on high house prices

125 comments
Increasing numbers of Aucklanders are forced to rent instead of buying and the Government is already subsidising 60 per cent of rental properties. Photo / Nick Reed
Increasing numbers of Aucklanders are forced to rent instead of buying and the Government is already subsidising 60 per cent of rental properties. Photo / Nick Reed

It's easy to assess the value of an asset in a liquid and rising market, but the future liabilities are not so easy to see.

Auckland's stratified median house price, which strips out the noise from an unusual number of sales in high or low price brackets, rose 3.4 per cent last month, to $937,100.

Despite urgent attempts by the Government and the Reserve Bank to dampen demand in October and November, the cooling off period lasted just five months.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? EMAIL THE HERALD

Auckland's housing market is back on the track of runaway inflation where demand from record high net migration, solid jobs growth, strong real income growth and falling interest rates are slamming straight into utterly inadequate supply.

The immediate outlook for some sort of correction is not bright.

The trend for housing consents has been falling since October and mortgage interest rates are widely expected to fall another 0.5 per cent to well under 4 per cent by the end of this year.

Migration is showing few signs of easing back from its current 100-year highs and Auckland Council looks set to block any proposal for a Unitary Plan that allows significant and sufficient new housing supply.

So Auckland and New Zealand are left with the prospect of yet more years of double-digit house-price rises leading to rents growing faster than inflation and the incomes of the working poor.

Auckland children whose parents don't own property can be sure they are not part of the new landed gentry, at least in this city.

Employers hoping to find workers easily and cheaply should plan for years of problems because their staff won't be able to afford to live near where they work.

This Auckland housing crisis, or jamboree (depending on your point of view), seems not to have hurt the Government in the polls and it was notable the latest REINZ figures were welcomed as a sign of success by Prime Minister John Key and Finance Minister Bill English.

Video

The not-so-dirty little secret of the politics of rampant house price inflation is it makes voters richer and happier.

They have more equity to reinvest in more rental properties, they can use the equity to build and run businesses and they can use their houses as ATMs for the odd holiday or two.

Auckland children who don't have parents who already own property can be sure they are not part of the new landed gentry, at least in this city.

Renters don't vote at nearly the same rate as property owners so politicians can easily preach that they are doing something about housing and safely do very little to stop the inflation.

Secretly, it suits them.

Or does it? This Government's driving force in the social policy area has been English's big idea - the social investment approach.

Video

This is where the Government can justify spending large amounts up-front on mentors and education for teen mums and rebuilding Child Youth and Family because the long-term costs of doing nothing are enormous.

So why not apply this actuarial approach to the Auckland housing problem?

English already talks about the fiscal risk to the Government from high rent inflation in Auckland ramping up the $2 billion annual cost for accommodation supplements and income-related rent subsidies.

The Government now has to subsidise 60 per cent of all rental properties. The research is clear that home-owning families are much more stable, their kids are better educated and eventually much more productive.

Even English has warned of the social costs of housing inequality and poverty.

To avoid the cost from entrenching a generation in housing poverty for decades, the Government would have few problems justifying spending a few billion now on the housing and infrastructure needed to turn that around.

If the Government is serious about its investment-led approach to addressing New Zealand's problems with child poverty, the first thing it should do is estimate the long-term social liability of allowing Auckland's housing supply crisis to stagger on unsolved.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Bernard is an economics columnist for the NZ Herald

Bernard Hickey is the publisher of Hive News, a Wellington-based political and economic subscription news email service. He also writes for Interest.co.nz and appears regularly on Radio New Zealand, Radio Live, TVNZ and TV3. He has been a financial journalist for 25 years, having worked for Reuters, the Financial Times Group and Fairfax Media.

Read more by Bernard Hickey

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 29 May 2017 15:13:38 Processing Time: 789ms