Cut immigration to ease housing woes, says Auckland mayoral candidate Phil Goff

By Bernard Orsman

Immigration has been thrust into the Super City mayoral contest after Labour MP Phil Goff yesterday called for a reduction in the number of migrants.

Goff did not put a figure on reducing immigration, but said the flow to Auckland should be eased until the city's housing crisis and transport congestion could cope with population growth.

"Urgent and bold action is needed to stop the worsening housing crisis and restore the affordability and availability of housing," Goff said at his campaign launch in West Auckland.

He said Auckland was growing by a record 825 people a week, two thirds of whom are new migrants.

The Kiwi dream of owning our home is slipping out of the reach of more and more Aucklanders and rents are becoming less affordable
Phil Goff

"Immigration is good for New Zealand - it brings skills and energy - but it needs to be at a rate transport and housing infrastructure can cope with."

Goff's housing policy calls for an easing of record migration numbers to allow infrastructure to catch up with population growth.

"This can be achieved by slowing the issuing of temporary work visas currently running at over 209,000 a year or by lifting the threshold for permanent residency," Goff said.

A Spinoff/SSI poll last week found that housing people's main priority for the new Auckland Council, at 50.7 per cent. This was well above the 33 per cent for transport.

"The Kiwi dream of owning our home is slipping out of the reach of more and more Aucklanders and rents are becoming less affordable," Goff said.

Speaking after his speech at Corban Estate, Goff said Auckland could not provide the infrastructure for more than half of the country's growth on its own and that was where the Government has to come to the party.

The Government had to give the council the means to turn zoned land into housing ready land.

"Without that the crisis will continue to get worse," Goff told the media.

He said Auckland needed 17,000 new houses a year and last year the council consented 9500 houses. The situation would get worse if the demand kept going up and the infrastructure was not there.

Goff told about 120 supporters he wanted to work with central government and other parties to tackle chronic homelessness based on the principle of first finding a house for homeless people and then wrapping services around them - "a proven successful model internationally and in New Zealand".

As mayor, Goff said he would institute an immediate review of council's consenting process to make it faster and cheaper, and put more support behind affordable housing schemes, like the 280-unit Waimahia housing project at Weymouth.

He supports infrastructure bonds for new development, but says the Government's $1 billion infrastructure fund is too limited to have a meaningful impact and needs to be significantly expanded.

Goff said he would advocate for policy changes by the Government which promote the interests of home buyers.

They included further increasing deposits required by investors to borrow from the banks, extending the bright-line test requiring tax to be paid on capital gains from two to five years, eliminating negative gearing and requiring foreign investors to build new houses rather than buying existing ones.

Centre-right mayoral candidate Vic Crone accused Goff of taking her housing policy and repeating it.

"From the outset, I've been clear that council's consenting process is not good enough. We're getting involved in decisions we shouldn't, like paint colours. So I'd also proposed a lean process review to speed up the system.

"I've long made public my tough stance on land banking along with homes left empty by speculators, which under my leadership will attract an additional targeted rate.

"My policy also includes sunset clauses on any land freed up by council for development and working with the Government on theirs. If that land isn't developed by a certain time, it will be rezoned or they will lose it.

Crone said it was clear council needed to find inventive ways to fund growth.

"That includes working with the Government but also with developers and social investment capital and providers. I have been out to the Waimahia development a few times now talking to the developers and new owners.

"Advocating to the Government is definitely an important part of the mayoral role but it seems Phil's heart is in Wellington," Crone said. "We need a mayor focused primarily on what we can do better here, then on how the Government can help us."

What our Home Truths couples think of Goff's policy:

Bharat Bhushan, an IT worker and his wife, Lovely Garg, an early childhood teacher, are would-be home-buyers who earlier featured in the Herald's Home Truths series looking at housing affordability.

The couple have a $60,000 deposit with a price cap of $600,000 and are still looking for a home.

The couple are immigrants from India. Bhushan came to Auckland in 2013 and Garg in 2015.

"They should stop it for a while until they sort out a few problems and then they should turn it on again. Even the people who are coming here now are not happy," he said.

Another couple who were part of the Home Truths series, Mike Alsweiler, a West Auckland cabinetmaker and his partner, Gemma Mann, have their fingers crossed for a three-bedroom house coming up at auction at Ranui next month.

Alsweiler supports easing migration for now, but not doing anything too dramatic.

"Auckland is growing quicker than it can keep up, it is playing a lot of catch up," said Alsweiler, who supports doing anything to halt or slow down housing prices.

- NZ Herald

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