The damage done to Auckland by house price inflation is starkly apparent when young couples start looking for work elsewhere once they contemplate having children.
A survey of 450 young teachers in Auckland primary and intermediate schools has found two thirds of them either leaving or thinking about leaving the city. They include just about all (94 per cent) of male teachers under the age of 35.
Male teachers are scarce in primary and intermediate schools at the best of times. In Auckland they could be near extinction if this survey by their union, the NZ Educational Institute, reflects their real intentions. It also found 40 per cent of female teachers under 30 have put off having children because of Auckland's cost of living.
High house prices and rents can be handled when a couple is childless by sharing a house with others. But when they contemplate starting a family, a house to themselves becomes imperative. It is at that point they look at leaving Auckland, and the city will be poorer on two counts. It will have lost a young family and, quite likely, some of the best young members of their profession.
Teachers will not be unusual in their response to city house prices. Police, hospitals and other public services are likely to be facing the same difficulty attracting staff with young families to Auckland or keeping them here.
Large employers in the private sector know the problem too. But if companies need to pay a premium to keep skills they simply have to retain in Auckland they will pay it; public service pay rates are set nationally by unions such as the NZEI and a loading for living costs in any locality would be harder to contain. It would be resented in other places and all would look for a local living cost deserving similar compensation.
That will be why the Government has resisted calls for an Auckland loading so far, claiming a lack of evidence that house prices are making the city's schools harder to staff. The primary union has now provided some evidence, though the Government may want to know how many of those surveyed are really leaving Auckland as distinct from "thinking about it".
But the message is all too credible - buying or renting a family home anywhere in the Auckland region on a teacher's starting salary is probably out of the question.
A solution will need to be found, probably long before Auckland house prices come back into a better balance with average incomes overall. Prices appear to have stabilised over the past year as banks have limited their lending and there is no reason to think they are about to refuel the market any time soon. The teachers' survey is one more signal to Auckland house investors that the market has found its upper limit. Tenants are prepared to go elsewhere.
For the Government to respond with an Auckland loading on public servants' pay would nullify that message and quite possibly cause prices and rents to rise again. It would seem wiser to provide houses adjoining school grounds. But something needs to be done soon.