NZ Herald business editor at large

Liam Dann: Reality of Auckland in 2016 - It's a bummer

My personal experience of Auckland's housing crisis is now a caricature of the problems I regularly write about in the Herald. Photo / Richard Robinson
My personal experience of Auckland's housing crisis is now a caricature of the problems I regularly write about in the Herald. Photo / Richard Robinson

My personal experience of Auckland's housing crisis is now a caricature of the problems I regularly write about in the Herald.

Next door to me, in my once working-class West Auckland suburb, a large four-bedroom house on a full section has been sitting empty for more than 12 months. A year ago it was one of the first $1 million sales in our neighbourhood. The owner is listed as having six properties around Auckland.

Meanwhile over the back fence in our local park, a small band of homeless people has quietly set up camp among the trees. Well, relatively quietly, if you don't count the odd fire or stand-off with the local kids.

In the old days you'd worry about how this might affect your property value.

These days it clearly won't. But it is still concerning.

I get that the correlation here is not scientific. You can call it anecdotal, you can call it symbolic, metaphoric or fancifully poetic for all it matters. But still, this is the reality of Auckland in 2016 and it is a bummer. Within a very short space of time my neighbourhood has become more exclusive and more impoverished.

Meanwhile, this property boom is great news for people like me.

My wife and I have owned our house for 10 years and my once breathtaking mortgage has shrunk rapidly, relative to my equity.

When it comes to really addressing housing affordability issues this is a big problem.

I'm one of a politically powerful block of Aucklanders coasting along on the wealth effect of rapidly rising property prices. Low inflation and low interest rates are maintaining my household cash flow while on paper I'm getting richer every week.

There is a conflict between my view that New Zealand's housing debt is a serious economic threat and the short term economic benefit it brings me. Plus my growing unease at the economic future for my children and the scale inequality in my community is starting to weigh heavily.

People ask: how do we solve this? There is no shortage of potential solutions.

We can choose to open up more land on the city fringe and allow more intensive development in the central suburbs.

We can choose to invest in transport solutions to make new housing zones work. We could invite private investment in that infrastructure and soak up some of the capital that is heading into residential property. We could tax property investors on an equal basis to sharemarket investors and drive more money into the productive economy to create more jobs and boost wages. We can further restrict bank lending or increase banks' capital requirements to limit their ability to lend on housing. Take your pick.

What we lack is the political motivation to enact the right combination of these solutions with the kind of urgency that will have an impact.

What's happening in Auckland is a slow-motion disaster. And it is not a zero sum game. Many are benefiting while we watch others around us lose out.

Westpac chief economist Dominick Stephens hit the nail on the head:

"People want everyone to be able to buy a house and the financial system to be safe and they don't want to see house prices fall, and they don't want to see infill in their suburb.

"Well something has got to give. The resolution is going to involve someone experiencing some disappointment relative to what they'd hoped for."

Managing that disappointment and sharing the burden in an equitable fashion is a political issue. It requires bold leadership.

But there is no point blaming our politicians for reflecting the will of their most reliable voting block.

The burden for effecting change lies with Aucklanders.

INTERACTIVE: Click below to discover exactly how many properties are within your price range, around the country.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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NZ Herald business editor at large

Liam Dann is business editor at large at the New Zealand Herald. He has been a journalist for 20 years, covering business for the last 14 of them. He has also worked in the banking sector in London and travelled extensively. His passion is for Markets and Economics, because they are the engine of the New Zealand economy. He hosts The Economy Hub video show every Thursday.

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