Strictly speaking, it wasn't an election event. Housing Minister Megan Woods was in Northcote on a blustery Friday morning to mark the opening of a new section of the massive redevelopment of that suburb. And she had some Government policy to announce: a new $350 million fund to support the housing construction sector.
But it was election-adjacent. They had a sausage sizzle. Officials radiated pride in their achievements. Woods spoke so positively about the progress being made by Kainga Ora, the new agency formed from the shell of Housing New Zealand. And about the value of the new fund: 15,000 jobs, 4000 more new homes.
It will mean, she said, that we "do not see a repeat of what happened in the GFC [the Global Financial Crisis] when programmes were stopped by a lack of funds". That was a reference to the last National Government. Not austerity, this time round, but stimulation, with safeguards.
She stood in the lounge of a low-ceilinged but very comfortable three-bedder, with a view across the little front garden to the lushly grassed common. The space was ringed with pleasant three-storey apartment blocks, furniture vans were arriving, people moving into their new homes as she spoke. It was a good look.
Kainga Ora, which roughly translates as Home Life, is not like, say, Oranga Tamariki (Children's Life). It has tens of thousands of new homes on the books, at every stage from planning to construction to completion. Officials that day talked off the record, with admiration, about how the minister gets what she wants, because the Government knows Kainga Ora is doing the business.
Is it surprising to hear this? The popular idea in some quarters is that the Government has failed in housing because it failed with KiwiBuild.
But those early dreams of the then-minister, Phil Twyford, can be ring-fenced. He was absurdly wrong to promise 100,000 homes in 10 years, at a rate of 10,000 every year.
He didn't allow for how long it would take to gear up the construction sector, get new subdivisions planned and consented, get the underground work done before actual houses can be built. Two years is the working assumption, and Twyford never seemed to grasp that.
Nor did he manage to get enough done in social housing - although he was the architect of Kainga Ora. Meanwhile, projects like Northcote were grinding their way towards realisation. Now, they're rising from the ground: around the country, in a 15-year programme, more than 40,000 new homes are being built.
Simon Wilson: The other boys in blue: National's crimefighters do their thing
Simon Wilson's election diary: National's brave faces for Auckland Central
Simon Wilson's election diary: Auckland Central hopefuls go head to head
Two things characterise the developments. The first is scale: Northcote will have 1500 new homes, creating a mixed community with social housing, market-driven homes and, yes, KiwiBuild. It's still there to help people own their first homes.
"Post-Covid," said Woods, "KiwiBuild becomes an incredibly important housing lever."
The other key is the community approach. New housing in Northcote will be accompanied by a completely rebuilt school, rebuilt shopping centre, new parks and greenways and recreation services, improved bus links and new cycle lanes. Government and council agencies are working together, some of the work is already complete and there's much more to come.
And yet, it's not all great. Kainga Ora, like the council agency Panuku, builds to a Homestar 6 standard. That's higher than the Building Code, but only because the Government still hasn't managed, despite a lot of huffing and puffing, to upgrade the code.
The homes are warm and dry, mainly because they have better insulation and heat pumps. In 2020, that's a low bar.
They're not highly energy efficient, not designed to minimise waste and there are usually lots of car parks, which double as public space where kids ride bikes and play. The public transport links will be better but there are no plans to make them really good.
These homes are designed for people to live well in today, but they do little to envisage the changing needs of a climate-crisis world in 30, 20 or even just 10 years' time.
And they are being built with almost no role for the community housing sector.
That's not-for-profit groups like the Housing Foundation, Salvation Army, iwi and others. They have a wealth of experience and, often, deep community connections. They've been pleading with the Government to give them a beefed up role, but they're not wanted.
Why? Megan Woods told me the answer was simple: "We believe it's the state's responsibility to build social housing."
Yes, but theirs alone?
Two days later on the other side of town, Greens co-leader Marama Davidson stood under a faintly drizzling sky in Weymouth to announce her party's new housing policy, Homes for All.
Not sure where Weymouth is? Out on the coast, southwest of Manurewa. "This," said Davidson, "is where my kids went to school and grew up."
Although not in the houses that surrounded us that day. We were in a community called Waimahia Inlet, where hundreds of homes were built by the Housing Foundation five years ago, mostly skewed towards rent-to-buy.
A daycare and community centre, parkland and play areas, pathways around the mangroves, the rotting piles of an old jetty poking from the water. Pukeko strutting about, grazing like sheep. There are bird footprints in cast aluminium, set into the concrete pathways, some large enough to suggest a small moa.
"Housing is a human right," said Davidson, which might sound obvious but it isn't. It means the way housing works shouldn't be defined by a market tilted in favour of speculation. Labour and NZ First have been uninterested in changing that.
The Greens want to empower the not-for-profits to build a lot more communities like Waimahia Inlet. It would include co-housing and papakainga projects, both of which involve new forms of shared ownership – something fiendishly difficult to get past doubtful banks today.
They also want to ramp up the entire social housing construction programme, to clear the current waiting list of 18,500 within five years. They propose to do it by allowing Kainga Ora to borrow off its own books, as well as through core Crown borrowing.
They have proposals for a better Building Code, health checks for all residential properties, more regulatory control of property managers.
"Wishful thinking," said National's housing spokeswoman, Jacqui Dean, the next day. More "red tape" would "scare landlords out of the market". Besides, she said the Government had already shown it can't build houses. Perhaps she hasn't been to Northcote, or Mangere, or Porirua or any of the others.
Dean is the politician who claimed last month that National built 30,000 new state houses during its last term in Government. That wasn't true: according to ministry figures it built 2670 and sold 2728. Party leader Judith Collins has called that record a "mistake" and promised more social housing.
Everything starts with housing. Beware any party making rash promises. But also beware those not committed to a whole-sector programme to build good homes for now and for the future, for all who need them.