Apartments as small as a double garage are being promoted as the answer to Auckland's housing affordability problems.

Martin Dunn, who runs specialist apartment real estate agency City Sales, said Auckland needed to consider downsizing to apartments as small as 20sq m.

First-home buyers were paying $450,000 for a decent house, which he called "prohibitive".

New apartments were selling for $7000- $9000 a sq m. The minimum requirements are 35sq m for a studio apartment, 45sq m for a one-bedroom apartment, 70sq m for a two-bedroom and 90sq m for a three-bedroom, meaning new apartments cost from about $280,000 to $720,000. If 20sq m apartments could be built, they could sell for as little as $160,000.

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"People can be happy living in 20sq m studios. We could start supplying new studios at $160,000 and one-bedroom apartments at $140,000. That would be a wonderful move for Auckland," Dunn said.

Future accommodation blocks could feature 20sq m studio apartments as well as larger apartments.

Labour Party housing spokesman Phil Twyford said 20sq m was too small. "That's smaller than a large double garage," he said. "We need more density but shoebox apartments are not the answer."

Real estate institute chief executive Helen O'Sullivan said smaller properties were one solution but it was important they were well-designed. "There's obviously a limit to how small properties can be and still be liveable."

She said first-home buyers would eventually see apartments as good alternatives to stand-alone houses.

Auckland Council said there were a number of submissions on the minimum size of apartments in the proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

Hearings begin in November.