COMMENT: Housing Minister Phil Twyford has announced that 211 KiwiBuild houses will be built in the ski resort of Wanaka. The first 10, we're told, will be ready in just a few months, with the lucky owners moving in before Christmas.
It goes without saying this is completely insane. Everybody who is eligible should register to buy one when Twyford's new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MHUD) opens the ballot on Monday.
To qualify, you — or whichever of your kids' names you use — will need to be a first-home buyer or "second-chancer".
They can have an individual income of up to $120,000 or a combined income of $180,000 if in a relationship. They must vouch that Wanaka will be their primary place of residence for at least the first three ski seasons.
You may need to spot them a reasonably hefty deposit. With either two or three bedrooms, the houses, being bought off the plans by MHUD from a private developer, will be priced from $565,000 to $650,000.
The good news is the banks will surely be generous given the location.
Small two-bedroom apartments in Wanaka go for $125 a night on Airbnb and much more during peak periods.
Even if you flick on your KiwiBuild house after three years, there's little doubt you'll make a cool 100 per cent profit on your initial deposit, thus the need for MHUD's lottery system.
This is nothing like the KiwiBuild scheme announced by former Labour leader David Shearer at his party's ill-fated 2012 conference.
Within three years, Shearer promised, 10,000 new houses would be built each year to hit a 100,000 target in a decade. There was no talk then of "buying off the plans".
Labour wouldn't take office just to tinker, Shearer said. KiwiBuild would be the biggest public building programme in 50 years.
True, Twyford is promising more ambitious projects than his initial "buying off the plans" initiatives. He says as many as 1600 of the 4000 houses at his Pt Chevalier site will carry the KiwiBuild badge, but none will be available in the foreseeable future.
He claims 3500 may be built in Mangere over the next 10 to 15 years and maybe another 2400 in Mt Roskill over the same period.
But these numbers are unlikely to sum to the 100,000 KiwiBuild houses over 10 years Twyford insists he is committed to deliver.
KiwiBuild is becoming a major problem for Labour strategists and not just because it is bound to fail to hit the 100,000 target.
Twyford's version of KiwiBuild — with its high income limit, $100,000-plus deposits and lottery element — will soon be seen as grossly unfair.
Beyond mere perceptions, it will in fact worsen inequality, which Labour claims to care about. If Labour does secure a second term, it will then face humiliation in 2023 as the media returns to the likes of Wanaka to find out whatever happened to the old KiwiBuild homes.
Twyford can still avoid this if he changes tack now. He needs to accept he has wasted his first year and finally understand the magnitude of the KiwiBuild promise. It can only be delivered as the mass once-in-50-years public construction project Shearer's original announcement envisaged.
The Minister needs to forget about a few hundred houses here and there. He needs to lift his sights to imagine small cities being built from scratch to the south and north of Auckland, linked with Hamilton, Tauranga and Whangarei by ultra-fast rail.
KiwiBuild must be transformed from the sort of limited initiative Wellington bureaucrats are comfortable with into something China consistently implements without much trouble.
Excellent urban design will be needed to stop the new cities becoming UK-style sink estates and Grant Robertson will have to further increase his infrastructure spend in the Golden Triangle that he spoke about at the Herald's Mood of the Boardroom event this week.
This may sound too bold to New Zealand ears, as Shearer warned in 2012, but it is the magnitude of the housing challenge required if the Government wishes to maintain the record levels of net immigration necessary to support the headline economic growth it needs for re-election.
In any case, 100,000 houses is the promise Labour made and it is now stuck with it.
Best, then, that Twyford rethinks his failing policy and commits to getting on with doing KiwiBuild properly. Alternatively, of course, the coalition could just decide to cut immigration by 30,000 a year over the next decade. Then no one would need KiwiBuild at all.
- Matthew Hooton is managing director of PR and corporate affairs firm Exceltium.