Whole streets of brand new housing are springing up all over Auckland as the city starts building again. But will the new homes solve our housing crisis and how do the people living in these neighbourhoods feel about the changes? Housing reporter Ben Leahy investigates
Chris Tawhai surveys the hive of building work transforming his once sleepy South Auckland street.
His home on Māngere's Hall Ave lies at the epicentre of a wider Auckland building boom as new houses mushroom along it at seemingly ever faster rates.
Once home to greenhouses and expansive veggie fields, Hall Ave has grown by 115 new homes since the beginning of 2019 - the second most of any street outside Auckland's city centre.
Next door to Tawhai, a new development has displaced a glasshouse that once spilled with tomatoes, while across the road another 45 townhouses are rising where just one house had stood a year earlier.
An influx of young families is brightening the street. But crowding, traffic and crime also appear to be on the rise, including a fatal shooting just a few houses away one month earlier.
Tawhai, 29, can still remember the street of his childhood where everyone knew each other and days were spent cutting through fields, playing with horses at pasture, and stealing tomatoes from next door.
But it was getting harder to recall.
"There are a lot of houses going up, cars, traffic, people coming in - it keeps changing and just cramps everyone up," he said.
It was the speed of change that had made housing the talk on everyone's lips.
Analysis by property researchers Valocity for the Weekend Herald, which identified Hall Ave as a building hotspot, also estimated 17,260 new houses and apartments had been completed across the city since the start of 2019.
Two-hundred and fifty of the new builds were in Māngere.
Like residents in new developments elsewhere in Auckland, those on Hall Ave are happy to be getting into desperately needed homes.
But many wonder whether too many people are being packed together too tightly, and what it will mean for their quality of life.
A changing street
A smiling Siosaia Tu'itupou opens his door and invites the Weekend Herald into his five-bedroom home.
The young University of Auckland architecture student's house stands next door to Tawhai's, having been built where the tomato glasshouse once was.
Tu'itupou moved from Māngere East with his mum and dad and two sisters in 2016.
They love their new house. It's bigger than their old home and has given them room to grow.
The street was peaceful and quiet when they moved in, and – as one of the first new developments on Hall Ave – the residents in the new houses became friends, forming their own Facebook community page.
But the Tu'itupous had no idea so many more new houses would be built so quickly.
Now an entire new street – Awhina Rd – has been created off Hall Ave and lined with state housing homes.
Tu'itupou also didn't know who would move in the new 45-townhouse development across the road.
But he worried about the quality of the new houses.
"Our house leans more towards a home," he said.
"These houses, all they do is accommodate people, but it doesn't meet their needs as families."
Already, there was often no space for parking as three or four cars squeezed onto the verge in front of homes and traffic and noise built up.
Tu'itupou's mum Stephanie passed by and listened, washing basket in hand.
She worried about the children in the new developments.
"The kids don't have anywhere to play so their playground is the road - even up to 10pm at night," she said.
"You have to be so careful when you drive there."
Crime had also picked up with armed police showing up more frequently, she said.
Tu'itupou watched from his house one day as police crouched out the front waiting to throw spikes across the road should a nearby police chase turn down Hall Ave.
"We love having people around and we don't mind what business they are doing, but we are only concerned about safety," Stephanie said.
Tu'itupou hoped the residents in each new development would get to know one another over time and build relationships.
"I think that will increase the safety," he said.
And just as Hall Ave had provided his family with a new life, Tu'itupou agreed the new townhouses would likely help others.
Auckland badly needed more houses, he said.
Auckland's housing shortage
Auckland is a city gripped by a housing shortage, one that has led prices to skyrocket.
In March, the median sales price hit a new record high of $1.12 million – up 18 per cent since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic a year earlier, the Real Estate Institute said.
Home ownership rates – which peaked in 1991 at 74 per cent – fell to 65 per cent by 2018, a low not seen since the early 1950s post-war boom.
Māori and Pacific people suffered worse. Around half of Pacific and Māori children lived in a family-owned home in 1986, but by 2013 just 39 per cent of Māori and 28 per cent of Pacific kids did.
Explanations abound for the crisis, but one of the most widely agreed causes is that there simply aren't enough homes.
Back in 1990, close to one-quarter of all newly built homes in New Zealand were estimated to have still been cheaply priced.
But a massive drop in Government investment from 1986 onwards combined with a public housing sell off created a shortage.
That was exacerbated by the Global Financial Crisis when banks became more cautious lending money.
Developers subsequently found it hard to get building loans, sending housing construction plummeting at a time of high immigration.
Understanding the shortage
One problem with the housing crisis is that no one can put an accurate number on just how many homes Auckland needs.
Estimates vary wildly from community housing group Community Finance's minimum of 60,000 new homes to Kiwibank's maximum of 100,000.
Business think tank NZ Initiative says 26,000 to 35,000 need to be built each year to meet population growth and replace the old homes knocked down.
Others, such as Westpac senior economist Satish Ranchhod, say the city has already been building so many houses that the shortage is "rapidly being eroded".
A lack of data is at the heart of the debate.
Stats NZ regularly publishes and analyses building consent data as a means of gauging how many houses had been built.
But building consents are simply approvals allowing a home to be built – they don't guarantee it will be completed.
Home owners or developers gaining a consent might run into financial trouble, for instance, and then either sit on their land or on-sell it without building.
Auckland Council has also released separate data showing the total number of Code of Compliance Certificates, or CCCs, issued.
It issued CCCs to developers or home-owners once it had inspected finished new build homes to ensure they were up to scratch.
Yet it didn't share CCC data in detail with private property analysts, such as Valocity and CoreLogic.
That meant analysts weren't able to use CCC data to publish more accurate information about when, where and how many homes had been completed in Auckland.
Hobsonville – Auckland's boom suburb
That lack of data has led Valocity to make its own estimate that just over 17,000 new homes have been completed since the start of 2019, with Hobsonville in Auckland's north west the suburb with the most building activity.
Hobsonville's 1795 completed builds included 944 new houses, 618 townhouses and flats and 233 new apartments.
The building spurt also served as a sign Hobsonville Point – a former air force base turned into master-planned community – was steaming towards its planned 2024 completion date.
On the city's opposite south-eastern side, Flat Bush was the suburb with the next most new builds with 1383 having been finished since the start of 2019, Valocity found.
Here a more traditional suburban life was taking shaping with 1232 homes completed and just 151 townhouses.
Valocity used a range of parameters to make its estimates.
Among those was noting a year built category that had now started to appear on more land titles, and also monitoring when a major change in a property's rating valuation took place.
That was because each time a new home was completed, a valuer also made an assessment of the house's value, so the council could begin charging the home-owner a rates bill.
Using such parameters, Valocity found new build homes had sprung up in a roughly equal proportion across the city.
It also found houses were still the most popular new builds with 11,135 completed. But townhouses and flats (3378) and apartments (2747) were gaining in popularity.
After Hobsonville and Flat Bush, Pukekohe with 961 new builds, Auckland Central with 928 and Papakura with 658 were the suburbs with the next highest levels of building.
Māngere ranked twentieth among the city's suburbs.
Progress is being made
Auckland Council Planning Committee chairman Chris Darby says no matter which data is cited, the city appears to be in a building boom.
Nationally, more new homes were approved for building in the past year than ever before as 41,028 building consents were issued, Stats NZ said.
Of those, 17,495 were in Auckland.
That meant the number of homes consented nationally had gone from its lowest annual number since the 1940s to an all-time record, mostly due to an increase in higher density apartment and townhouse living.
There had also been 12,497 Code of Compliance Certificates issued for completed new builds in the 12 months to February, Auckland Council said.
Infometrics senior economist Brad Olsen said Auckland was experiencing "an incredible level of building" that was likely "starting to eat away at the undersupply of housing".
"But we've had this issue build up over such a period of time, it was never going to be a quick one to reverse," he said.
Darby said governments past might have "seen the numbers go up and then taken a bit of a breather, leaned back and thought that problem is solved onto the next one".
"But we have to maintain that for months and years, and when I say years, I'm talking many, many years until we don't see people in cramped conditions or living in garages or cars."
Can new government changes further boost the boom?
Recent government policy initiatives aim to add momentum to the building boom.
Among the changes was a February announcement by the Government to overhaul the nation's major planning document, the 1991 Resource Management Act, which Labour has acknowledged is "a bureaucratic nightmare".
The Government had also used tax reform to try to incentivise investors to buy new build houses rather than existing houses.
That included allowing investors to claim interest paid on home loans as a business expense if they bought a new home, but not allowing it if they bought an existing house.
Mark Todd, co-founder of developers Ockham, argued the changes were a chance to direct more investment into construction.
But the government had to get the policy's design right. He said it was critical that investors could claim the tax exemption on new builds for up to 25 years after buying.
"When an investor puts their money into these projects they are helping create new wealth - new housing to meet our housing shortage – rather than concentrating the houses that already exist in fewer and fewer hands," Todd said.
A call to clever design
However, in the rush to build, build, build, Unitec Institute of Technology senior architecture lecturer David Turner also urges caution.
He recently put out a paper decrying how standalone new build homes – also known as detached dwellings - were often being squeezed on to ever smaller Auckland blocks.
While Kainga Ora and developers, like Ockham, tended to do nicer developments, many others were not, Turner said.
Internationally, it had become commonly accepted that good design meant standalone houses should be built at a density no greater than 25 dwellings per hectare.
Standalone developments more intense than that, "just didn't work", he said.
"Unless you are prepared to do without gardens, do without decent space for cars, do without privacy," he said.
Yet despite the accepted international standards, standalone homes were often being squeezed together at higher densities in Auckland, he said.
He called for the council to make a formal planning change to stop the practice.
Where higher density housing was desired, it should either be designed as attached townhouses or apartments, Turner said.
Māngere's changing face
High-density city living is a far call from the Māngere of the past.
One of the city's most multicultural suburbs, its houses once sat on large farms and market garden sites developed by the state between the 1940s and 1960s
Yet on Hall Ave, few of the old market gardens remained.
The new 45-townhouse development was itself rising on the site of the most recent market garden sites to sell.
Tawhai looks across at it from the front of his house, watching the workmen buzz about.
An old couple had lived there for more than 25 years before selling in December 2019.
Their 6092sq m section fetched $3.65m.
Tawhai, who had lived in the same state housing flat his whole life, found it hard to begrudge the old couple for taking the pay day, even he thought it left the rest of the community poorer for it.
Down the road, a Cook Islander community centre stands on another former market garden site yet to be developed.
When this Weekend Herald reporter walked into the centre, the three men chatting inside mistook me for a developer.
"You are the 16th developer to come and ask me about the land in one week," one of the men said, as a cat snoozed at his feet.
Yet it turned out the three were planning to develop the huge tract of land themselves.
Since the area had been rezoned to residential housing, they could no longer proceed with former plans to build a larger community centre.
Now the owner wanted to find investors to help him build rentals that could act as support housing for new arrivals to New Zealand from Auau Enua – the second largest island in the Cook Islands.
But it couldn't just be any investor. They would have to be happy to finance a more spacious development, rather than crowd houses on to the site like those built by the Government next door, he said with a nod of his head.
Life in public housing
Just after 3pm a change took place on Hall Ave.
The workmen began to put down tools and pack up their utes, while a wave of chattering, kids took over the pavements on their way home from school.
Mantere Maro also started to head for the door of his new state housing home on Awhina Rd.
Starting his work shift making beef jerky at 4am each day, he also has the added job of picking up his grandkids from day care on the way home before later fetching "the older lot" from primary school around 3pm.
Maro had lived in an old state home slated for demolition on Bader Crescent before moving to his new four-bedroom home, where he lived with his wife and daughter and grandkids.
Inside the home, a large, modern kitchen stretched into an open plan living room, where his grandkids watched television.
Should Maro dare to change the channel, it "would be war", he joked.
Only when the rugby was on would he take the remote.
Maro said he was thankful for the new home, despite it having much less land than his old house.
"As long as we've got a roof over our heads, I'm happy," he said.
Nearby a mum of six, who didn't want to be named, opened her door to the Weekend Herald as her children hung on to her legs.
A nurse fresh off the night shift, her husband stayed home each day caring for the kids.
Behind her door a beautifully kept house could be seen. She liked her home but asked where all the trees had gone.
Together with her kids, she had planted one of the only manicured front gardens along the street.
Like the Tu'itupous, she worried about letting her kids play on the street, as well as the level of crime.
"I've seen police almost every day on our street, I've seen helicopters above, I've seen cops with guns running to houses – and I have to run back inside my house," she said.
Still, she had formed a partnership with a small group of nearby neighbours that kept an eye out for each other.
Meanwhile, on Hall Ave, Tawhai and his mother were worried that they could be asked to move one day, given the building boom going on.
The family had lived in their state house for the last 30 years. The brick flat with its big yard seemed a world of comfort away from the life being led on Awhina Rd, Tawhai said.
"No way, would we want to move and live right on top of each other," he said.