Shots are being fired back and forth by politicians and media pundits about whether or not KiwiBuild will be a success or failure.

Building more houses - the supply side of the housing crisis equation - is going to be harder than Labour realised. We can all see that now.

A bit of criticism, therefore, is warranted, particularly of the Government's shifting definition of "affordable homes", which has stretched to $650,000 for a house in Auckland.

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KiwiBuild has now morphed into a "middle-class aspirational policy". Yeah, that's not what we were sold pre-election.

Totara Grove housing development in Tikipunga, Whangarei. Individual houses, even compact townhouses, are going to be too expensive to provide cheaply, where the need is most, says Vaughan Gunson.
Totara Grove housing development in Tikipunga, Whangarei. Individual houses, even compact townhouses, are going to be too expensive to provide cheaply, where the need is most, says Vaughan Gunson.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford's confidence in his abilities has deflated as the cost of KiwiBuild homes has ballooned. He now appears to have only a normal-sized sense of infallibility. Greater humility might see him open to listening.

I hope that's the case, because there are good ideas out there. We don't have to accept that the housing crisis is unsolvable.

The essential thrust of what many architects and town planners are saying (and have been saying for decades), is that we need to embrace apartment living. The quarter-acre section will continue to have its place, but it's not the answer to a growing population constrained by land space, as well as material and energy costs.

Individual houses, even compact townhouses, are going to be too expensive to provide cheaply, where the need is most. So whether it's KiwiBuild, state housing or private sector development, we need to go upwards, higher than has been the norm in New Zealand.

We're talking in the region of 15 storeys in our major cities, but even in cities like Whangarei, we have to consider the need for multi-level apartment buildings.

That's going to take some getting used to, as we've so long lived in cities where trees are the highest suburban feature.

The trick will be empowering architects and visionary town planners while constraining the construction companies from building poor versions of apartment living. That's a regulatory and law matter, which is what government's do, make regulations and laws.

We can bring in new technologies and expertise from overseas. After the failures of 1960s modernist high-density public housing, lessons were learnt. We can import that knowledge.

With smaller sized dwellings we have to acknowledge we're entering a trade-off. Less space maybe, but also less time mowing lawns and maintaining continually deteriorating wooden exteriors (for most of us).

Less room for entertaining at home, but maybe attractive public spaces to meet and socialise. Less outdoor seating at home, more public seats in sheltered courtyards.

We might forgo our private gardens, but could gain community orchards and "family allotments", as is common in Britain, which are important social spaces that help bring communities together.

What we need to keep in mind - the Government most of all - is that it's not so much about building houses, as building homes.

A home is a place we feel safe, content (certainty not stressed by a massive mortgage), where we have access to grass and trees, proximity to schools, libraries, sporting complexes, public transport, theatres, cafes, shops and markets.

Define a home that way, and not by square metre size, then we might be able to ensure all New Zealanders have reasonable access to one.

■ Vaughan Gunson is a writer and poet interested in social justice and big issues facing the planet.