Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Affordable housing? It's right under your nose, guys

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Affordable housing has a part solution in Hobsonville. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Affordable housing has a part solution in Hobsonville. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Finance Minister Bill English should look into a mirror next time he points the finger at Auckland Council for not doing enough to encourage affordable housing.

He was on National Radio this week, threatening Government action if the council doesn't streamline planning procedures and make more land available, as though that is all he could do.

Yet there is a quick part-solution to the problem right under his nose - well, under Prime Minister John Key's nose anyway. All the Government has to do to rapidly increase the pool of affordable housing is to revive the original plans for Housing New Zealand's 3000-unit housing development at Hobsonville Point in Mr Key's electorate.

The schools and parks are already being built, the roads, drainage, electricity and other vital infrastructure under way, and a new ferry terminal is opening in a few weeks.

All it would take to build at least 1000 affordably priced homes is for Mr Key to hold his nose and agree to a small influx of poorer people into his electorate.

Hobsonville was to have been Housing New Zealand's showpiece "sustainable mixed community" when it was launched in 2006. It was a textbook development, a public-private project containing a cross-section of residents, a third of the 3000 homes being either "affordable" self-owned homes or state rentals. The locals disapproved and their local MP, the multimillionaire Mr Key, attacked the plans as "economic vandalism" in "a very upmarket area".

In 2008, he became Prime Minister and ordered the state rentals gone.

Late last year, Housing Minister Phil Heatley visited the site to announce that about 500 of the homes to be built over 10 years would be "affordable" - half costing less than $400,000 and the other 250 or so less than $485,000.

The announcement appeared to be a desperate attempt to divert attention from Labour leader David Shearer's much bolder promise that Labour would build 100,000 entry-level homes in New Zealand over 10 years for $300,000 or less each.

Industry sources confirmed to me that even in Auckland, a $300,000, two-bedroom, 90sq m, two-storey terrace house, with all the relevant infrastructure, was possible. Particularly in a planned development such as Hobsonville.

Instead of threatening the Auckland Council, Mr English would be better off reminding Mr Key of his humble state house origins. The council has worked closely with the Hobsonville Land Company. It contributed the lion's share of the cost of the $2.85 million new ferry terminal there. It has cut through planning red tape, and reduced the development fees levied by council. The Government, for its part, seems to be taking a very laidback approach to its side of fighting the housing crisis.

At Hobsonville, the target is to build just 100 houses a year, rising to 250 if demand requires. Rather a different pace to the 10,000 a year promised by Labour.

Mr English's "get tough" comments followed another story about Auckland's property bubble continuing to expand. He'd have been better to have repeated his comments to Corin Dann on Q&A last October. Praising Auckland Council's affordable housing strategy as "excellent" he added: "We're working alongside them closely. We've got to be careful about Government blundering in here too much into council business, because we don't understand all the local issues." How true.

If housing around $300,000 can be considered affordable, then it is possible, in Auckland, to build affordable housing. Auckland Council has identified 18,000 housing sites available to be built on now.

The real problem is persuading developers to forgo large profits and to build for the lower end of the market.

Mr English could prove his genuine commitment to more affordable housing in Auckland with a quick phone call to the Hobsonville Land Company.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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