Viruses like the one causing so much trouble around the world are ingeniously resilient, readily self-sustaining organisms. But New Zealand's house-price inflation could give Sars-CoV-2 a run for its money. It's hard to think of anything short of an apocalypse that's capable of stopping it.
Seemingly every action, threat, hint and even atmospheric condition that arises has had the side effect of priming the house-price pump.
The Reserve Bank's management of interest rates will be critical for getting the economy regrowing and keeping it moving – but like practically everything else, it, too, has had this side effect of fattening house prices.
New Zealand could hardly have had a more existentially fear-inducing year, from January's Australian fires darkening our skies and our climate-change horizons to Covid-19's mortal threat, yet house sales hit record volumes by September and set a record median price.
For now, the new government will be having to accept that while Covid fiscal triage is aggravating our affordability disease, it's a reasonable short-term economic trade-off. Longer term, however, younger voters see where this ends: no home ownership for them.
But the circularity is insistent. The government will have to keep borrowing to build and foster the building of infrastructure – hopefully including affordable housing for sale and rent – or the economy will stall and everybody will be poorer.
This is not a policy Bermuda Triangle exclusive to New Zealand, but we do have a globally high national sense of entitlement to personal home ownership. Accordingly, house-price inflation's persistence is hugely psychological. Any external stressor prompts the consolation "at least we've still got the house".
So heavily are New Zealanders invested, an outright house-price crash would be a whole new catastrophe, affecting not just the wealthy but a large number of the just-getting-by.
For this reason, the Government's stated goal has been to stabilise prices through fostering increased supply, rather than actively trying to drive them down. Depriving itself of the touchstone of a capital or wealth tax, this would appear to be the only realistic goal, as well as the safest politically.
Cheaper borrowing has enabled a rising proportion of first-home buyers to enter the market, even in the teeth of Covid fear.
But it doesn't take an economist to forecast a huge further rise in unemployment being likely to burn off these green shoots. Infometrics, for one, reckons there'll be 186,000 fewer jobs by the middle of next year. This is not the most pessimistic of economists' forecasts, which have topped out at 300,000 fewer jobs from Covid's ravages. But inevitably any rise in joblessness will put pressure on the affordability of everything, housing included.
Help is on its way – but apparently not terribly swiftly.
In Parliament's last gasp, the Government put through blockbuster double-bill legislation to streamline large-scale urban development and major infrastructure. And all of a sudden … nothing happened. As with the disappointing "shovel-ready" suite of projects the Government had hoped to accelerate, the new development superstructure remains subject to Covid caution – including on the part of the new government itself. There appear to be no private-sector projects in the pipeline, despite the Kāinga Ora development agency's huge red tape-cutting power – including the ability to effectively grant developers the right to levy the owners of the houses or buildings they develop into the future for the cost of their infrastructure.
The government's problem will be partly that the concept is so new that would-be developers are not rushing to be its pioneer users and partly that in the thick of Covid's murky uncertainties, this is a pig of a time for anyone to think big. That goes for the government, which won't have got anything ready to feed through the Kāinga Ora speed tunnel itself.
Labour shortages, both skilled and unskilled, and long-time instability in the construction sector are further drag anchors. Facilitating more overseas labour in the short term and more trades and engineering training in the medium term seems the only solution to this now-chronic labour imbalance.
The government will be expecting to see applications for big builds by next month. What it might be prepared to do to further sweeten the pot if the understandably risk-averse private sector shies away will be a conundrum for whoever is the next housing minister.