Politicians have long known the risks of sharing the stage with babies and pets. By now I'm guessing Housing Minister Phil Twyford will have added scene-stealing economist, Shamubeel Eaqub to that list.

Following last year's election, Twyford commissioned an "opening of the book" exercise to reveal the true extent of New Zealand's housing crisis. Three leading campaigners, Alan Johnson of the Salvation Army, Otago Public Health professor Philippa Howden-Chapman and Eaqub were commissioned to delve into the government filing cabinets and produce an official stocktake of the situation. It was to set the scene, not to prescribe solutions.

But at Monday's Beehive launch of what Twyford described as a "sobering" read, Eaqub couldn't help himself. He as good as called the minister a big girl's blouse for pledging to build a miserly 100,000 new affordable houses over the next 10 years, saying the target should be 500,000!

He criticised the new Government's fiscal responsibility rules requiring the government to stay in surplus as a "straitjacket" and said it should be "borrowing s***loads of money" to pay for new housing and infrastructure.


He also argued for an urgent reform of tenancy legislation along the lines of recent reforms in Scotland and Ireland, to give more rights to the 50 per cent or so of the population who live in rental accommodation.

Watching the live feed online, I admit I was cheering him on. The 100,000 target has always seemed underwhelming.

Just in Auckland alone, as the report notes, there's an existing shortage of between 28,000 and 45,000 homes to make good. On top of that, Auckland needs 14,000 or so additional houses a year to cope with population growth, yet the private sector is building only half that number.

Twyford endeavoured to regain control by saying that with a planned increase in state house construction, more than 100,000 homes would end up being built. He also talked of financial reforms that would enable the government to tap into private finance without the debt appearing on the government balance sheet.

Illustration / Peter Bromhead
Illustration / Peter Bromhead

With defeated National party ex-ministers already beginning to taunt Twyford about how many houses he'd built yet, it had seemed a smart move to invite three of the most informed housing crisis whistle blowers to produce "an independent stocktake".

It promised to give the government some breathing space to start fleshing out their election campaign promises while keeping the issue in the public eye. And that the report does, combining for the first time all the known and unknown official data into one succinct and comprehensive report. As the minister says, it's sobering reading.

It paints a picture of a nation divided between the asset-rich, and usually older and whiter house owners, and the poorer, younger, browner and disproportionately socially deprived, renting class.

It also highlights how in recent years, the state has begun to disengage from both the old cross-party goal of creating a property-owning democracy, and of ensuring a cushion of state-provided housing for those the market had failed.

The report notes that over the last decade, dwellings owned or managed by Housing New Zealand dropped from 69,717 in mid-2011 to 62,917 in mid-2017. Yet in the December 2017 quarter, there were 6182 households in need of a state house.

Twyford agreed with Eaqub's call for urgent reform of the wild west that is the rental sector, saying a review of the Residential Tenancy Act was a priority.

With half the adult population now in rental accommodation, including 70 per cent of new households formed over the past decade, it seems amazing to me that tenant rights has not become one of the leading issues of our time. Why aren't tenants marching in the streets, demanding the security of tenure and healthy living conditions that Europeans have, by law, enjoyed for more than 50 years.

Last week, the developers of a luxury new hotel on the Auckland waterfront didn't muck about when faced with a crisis. Unable to find local labour to complete the 195-room hotel, they plan to bring in 200 Chinese workers to do the job on time.

It's this "can do" attitude that we're now waiting for from Twyford and his colleagues.