Apartments may be the sensible answer, but young families know it’s not the same as your own bit of turf

The Kiwi dream dies reluctantly. The Prime Minister is no doubt right when he suggests that young people dismayed by the latest rise in house values should look at an apartment for their first step on the ladder. But an apartment is not the same. It is not a piece of land to call your own.

The dream of a house and section persists despite the fact so many urban households these days have little use for land. Children are less inclined to play outside. Computers and video games provide more fun inside. Houses have been enlarged to cover as much of the site as the planning code permits. Lawns and gardens have long since disappeared under concrete for double garage driveways, additional car parking, patios and maybe a pool.

Infants, whether their home is an apartment or a house, are as likely to be taken to public playgrounds for fresh air and physical exercise. The variety and design of public playground equipment, not to mention its safety features, are among today's unsung marvels. During the week, children are unlikely to spend much time at home indoors or out. Even pre-schoolers are in early education centres while both parents work.

All things considered, the young family may as well be in an apartment. They are likely to find their neighbours are immigrants from places where apartment living is the norm. Auckland's rapidly increasing Asian population, in particular, will be giving apartments good resale value. And it is not only Asia where inner-city apartment living is favoured over suburban houses. A person buying a first home in London, Paris or Sydney is probably more likely to be buying an apartment.

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Auckland planners had apartments in mind when they zoned so much of the city for multi-unit development in their draft Unitary Plan.

Apartments do not have to be in high-rise blocks, they can be in clusters so well designed that each has a distinct entrance and its own private space.

But no matter how well designed they are, they are usually subject to unit titles, body corporate rules and other legal pitfalls for the unwary.

This week the Herald reported a case in which a central city apartment owner successfully challenged a decision of the body corporate to charge him $2500 for an access card to his home. But the card was a benefit to owners who sublet their apartments through the body corporate and the court's ruling has hurt them. Stand-alone homes do not have these conflicts.

Apartments may be the best first step on the ladder for single people or couples without children.

A $250,000 one-bedroom home of 50sq m, close to the city, may be enough for those who need little more than a place to sleep.

But these units may never be the homes many young people will aspire to own at the point in their lives when they have saved a deposit.

The lure of land they can call their own and four walls that are theirs alone will probably always take them to the suburbs. The demand for new subdivisions and affordable housing for young families is not going to go away. It's the Kiwi dream and it's the Government's duty to make it reasonably possible. An apartment is not a piece of New Zealand.

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