The Salvation Army has proposed a massive low-income housing programme to make use of up to 30,000 builders likely to be laid off because of the world financial crisis.
The Salvation Army's director of social services, Major Campbell Roberts, says the crisis calls for a "Kiwi housing fund" worth $500 million to $1 billion a year.
He told a Habitat for Humanity seminar in Auckland yesterday that many of the 130,000 people in the construction industry risked losing their jobs because of the financial meltdown unless the Government intervened.
Overseas leaders such as Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd have already announced accelerated infrastructure programmes to offset the squeeze on private building expected as banks drastically tighten lending.
Major Roberts said intervention was needed both to keep builders in the country and to ensure adequate numbers of affordable homes for low- and middle-income families.
Building consents for new dwellings have dropped from a peak of 32,000 in 2004 to 21,356 in the year to August, and Major Roberts said the Real Estate Institute forecast a further fall to between 15,000 and 16,000 in the next couple of years.
"That would reduce the building industry by $800 million a year and reduce 20,000 to 30,000 workers," he said. "And 15,000 to 16,000 houses a year will not address growing demand which requires 20,000 new dwellings a year to keep up with population growth and migration."
He said the proposed housing fund should be used both for "social housing", including Housing NZ and non-profit groups such as Habitat for Humanity, and for subsidised mortgages for low-income families.
"Innovative housing policy in the past helped to build the Kiwi dream [of owner-occupied housing]," he said. "The present market conditions give us that opportunity again."
Habitat for Humanity's world chief executive, US-based Jonathan Reckford, said developers could be given incentives to include affordable housing, citing a US case where a developer was allowed two extra floors on a high-rise apartment complex on condition that one floor was allocated to Habitat.
Labour North Shore candidate Phil Twyford told the seminar the Government had already passed a law to allow local councils to require developers to include affordable housing in new projects.
National housing spokesman Phil Heatley said National would help first-home buyers by leasing them crown land rent-free for 10 years on condition that they built a house on it within a year.