In the 10-part series What's the Plan? The Herald's political and specialist reporters examine the big issues facing New Zealand and how the main political parties plan to deal with them. Here, Ben Leahy compares the policies on housing
Housing affordability is often a pivotal election battleground, with politicians making sweeping promises to help Kiwis buy their own homes in the face of soaring house prices.
This election, the political parties have been unusually quiet about the housing crisis.
Instead, they have sought to shift the fight to other issues, including debating renters versus landlords' rights, social housing, and reforming planning legislation.
Labour – having dramatically failed in its promise to help Kiwis into new homes by building 100,000 KiwiBuild homes in 10 years – has sought to portray itself as the party that will look after tenants.
More than 1 million Kiwis are said to be renters and the Labour-led Government introduced a range of measures it says protects their rights and forces landlords to provide healthier rental homes.
National has called the new renter protections "landlord bashing" and promised to scrap them if elected. It argues if landlords are unable to make a profit they will exit the industry, leaving a shortage of homes for tenants to rent.
Labour also promises to build thousands more social houses to provide vulnerable and low income Kiwis with warm, secure places to live.
National claims it will also build social housing if elected.
The Labour-led Government has also championed planning reform, pushing further ahead with plans to scrap the Resource Management Act planning document than National did during its term in Government.
Other major parties agree the RMA is broken and prevent enough homes being built to keep up with demand, but none have arguably delivered a detailed plan on how the act can be replaced.
Tackling the housing crisis and sky-high prices
Against these battleground issues comes Covid-19, recession, and the spectre of skyrocketing house price growth again.
House prices have now risen under a succession of different Governments to become among the most expensive in the world, plummeting home ownership levels to record lows.
Prices especially skyrocketed during National's term in Government from 2008 to 2017 and have continued to rise during the past three years of the Labour, New Zealand First and Greens Government.
While plenty have made good money from the price rises, it also threatens to create a divide between the haves and have-nots, who cannot afford to buy.
Despite trumpeting the merits of the free market, National sought to tackle some of these issues in its final years in Government.
Its main response was to create specialised housing zones for developers which allowed them to get fast-tracked consents to build houses.
The 154 Special Housing Areas had mixed results. More than half were scrapped without any homes being built, and developers often sat on the land waiting for it to rise in value or found ways to avoid a requirement to make a share of the houses affordable.
National also introduced grants of between $5000 and $20,000 for first-home buyers. These have had mixed success, being welcomed by first-home buyers able to access them, but proving little use to others because of sky-high house prices.
National's bright line test in 2015 required anyone who resold a property (except the family home) within two years to pay tax on any capital gains.
Since taking power in 2017, the coalition Government extended the bright line test, by requiring those reselling houses within five years to pay the tax.
The new Government also banned foreign citizens from buying NZ homes in a bid to stop them competing with locals and introduced ring fencing: preventing property investors from using losses on residential rentals as tax deductions against other income – a tax incentive first home buyers didn't have access to.
Labour and the Greens also sought to push ahead with a capital gains tax, but were blocked by coalition partner New Zealand First.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has since said Labour would not introduce a capital gains tax under her leadership, but the Greens remain committed to it.
It is unclear exactly what National would do if elected, but it's likely it would look to reverse the foreign buyer ban, and possibly also the ring fencing changes, while reducing the bright line test back down to two years.
And while National and Labour both promised to build thousands of homes – National 26,000 and Labour 100,000 – heading into the 2017 election, neither are promising big build programmes this time.
Instead, the Coalition Government has talked about replacing the RMA planning document so private developers find it easier to build new homes.
It commissioned an independent review that in July recommended replacing the act with two new pieces of legislation: a Natural and Built Environments Act and a Strategic Planning Act.
Since being introduced in 1991, the RMA has doubled in size to about 900 pages and become overly complex.
Labour says it's a bureaucratic nightmare that makes it costly and lengthy to build new housing developments.
The other parties agree. The ACT Party called the RMA the "single biggest obstacle to housing affordability in New Zealand", and criticised National for failing to reform it while in power.
National says, if elected, it would also quickly replace the RMA with two new pieces of legislation - a job it claims it would finish by the end of next year.
An area where Labour and the Coalition Government have made fast progress is in building new social housing and combating homelessness.
The Government has built more than 3500 new state homes and funded 8000 more homes and transitional places for low income and vulnerable Kiwis.
Yet the number of households waiting for social housing has climbed to more than 18,500.
The Government has been criticised by non-profit community groups for largely going it alone.
National's record has been poor in this area. During its term in Government, it under invested and sold more social houses than it built.
It was more willing to work with community groups to build social housing, however. As is the Act Party.
The Greens and the Māori parties would also put community groups at the centre of the social house building programmes.
The Māori party has called for one-quarter of all Government contracts - especially in housing - to be awarded to Māori-led organisations.
The party would also look to build 2000 homes on ancestral land over the next two years.
New Zealand First has been keen to put its name behind social houses in the regions where it draws the strongest support.
Tenants and landlords
Labour and the Greens have portrayed themselves as champions of renters' rights.
While National brought in rules requiring landlords to insulate rental properties, the Coalition Government pushed ahead with Healthy Homes legislation requiring landlords to upgrade rental properties in stages between 2021 and 2024 to ensure they are warm and dry.
It also reformed the Residential Tenancies Act to ban letting fees, reduce rent increases to once a year, and do away with a clause that allows landlords to evict tenants without giving a reason. It also introduced a rule that ensures fixed-term tenancies automatically transfer to a periodic tenancy at their conclusion.
Labour and the Greens argue the last two measures give tenants power to voice concerns about their rental properties without fear of being branded trouble makers and finding themselves evicted.
But property investors say the last two measures go too far and mean landlords lose control of their own properties, potentially forcing landlords to leave the industry.
National and Act agree, saying the changes attack the more than 250,000 property investors who provide a valuable service renting out more than half a million homes.
National has promised to repeal all of the new measures, except for the need to insulate homes - a measure they introduced.
We thought it would never happen
Shontelle and Henae Hira have been excitedly watching the wooden frames of their new-build home rise in suburban Tauranga.
Months earlier they had given up on their dream of home ownership after failing to find anywhere in their price range.
"We'd been wanting to buy our first home and saving as hard as we can, but never felt it was going to happen or was possible," Shontelle said.
The couple had cobbled together their KiwiSaver investments and moved in with Shontelle's parents to save as much for their deposit as possible.
But it still wasn't enough. They needed the Government's First Home Grant as well, which enabled couples building a new home to secure up to $20,000 towards their deposit.
Yet all the home packages on sale below Tauranga's new-build First Home Grant price cap of $550,000 had sold out.
Luckily, Shontelle worked for a developer. And when a buyer pulled out of a deal for a $550,000 new build with her company, Shontelle and her husband jumped in to take over the purchase.
Signing the contract just before New Zealand went into lockdown in March, they now feel "incredibly lucky".
Shontelle said every day several young couples contacted her company hoping to buy new builds that would qualify for the Government's grant.
Yet her company had none left because they couldn't get their hands on new land to build more.
Auckland's Grace Lauina, husband Mativa, and children Zion, 8, Zurielle, 7, and Danny, 9 months, have just spent their first year in their own home in the suburb of Glen Innes.
Grace grew up in state housing where her father Reverend Sefo Silipa had always dreamed of buying a house for his family to inherit. However, Silipa laboured under the financial pressure of supporting relatives in Samoa and his dream never quite became reality.
Yet in 2016, Lauina and her husband took a personal finance course and sought help from the Tāmaki Regeneration project.
In August last year, they successfully reduced their debts and moved into a new, four-bedroom Glen Innes home they will have the chance to buy in shared ownership with the charity, NZ Housing Foundation.
As part of the scheme, they pay "an affordable rent" set at 30 per cent of their income, which allows them to save money for a deposit so they can eventually take out a loan and begin buying the house from the NZ Housing Foundation.
Housing: The policies
• Reform planning laws, speed up consent processes and find ways to fund infrastructure that supports housing. Post-Covid plans include a $350m fund for residential house building.
• Post-Covid plans include a $350m fund for residential house building.
• Backs changes to lift standards in rental market, including limiting increases to once a year.
• Has committed funding for 8000 more social and transitional housing places.
• Under pressure to let non-profit groups play larger role.
• Promises to unveil new planning laws by end of year. Hasten issuing of building consents.
• Would repeal rental reforms which give tenants power to question landlords and unwind new Healthy Home requirements brought in by current Government.
• Calls tenancy changes landlord bashing.
• Most likely would outsource social housing construction to non-profit groups.
NEW ZEALAND FIRST
• Supports planning reform, opposes capital gains tax but supports bright line test, which taxes owners reselling property within five years.
• Supports many of the tenancy reforms but steers a line between interests of landlords and tenants.
• Has backed social housing projects, especially in the regions.
• Remain committed to capital gains tax to share wealth gains from property boom.
• Lent support to $400m home ownership scheme.
• Wants every rental home to pass a regular warrant of fitness covering insulation, heating and weather-tightness.
• Wants expanded social housing investment and favours greater involvement by community groups.
• Backs changes to planning laws to make it easier and cheaper to build.
• Wants a targeted rates scheme so new house buyers contribute to infrastructure.
• Supports private sector issuing building consents.
• Opposes tenancy changes it says burdens landlords with costs at a time of rental shortages.
• Favours community providers doing the legwork in social housing provision.
• Wants to tax owners of vacant land and so called ghost houses and introduce a modified capital gains tax.
• Wants immigration halted until housing supply catches up with demand.
• Would allocate half of all new social houses to Māori and build 2000 homes on ancestral land over the next two years.
• Wants 25 per cent of housing funding transferred to Māori groups for social and affordable projects.,