It was almost funny listening to Bill English on Checkpoint. He had identified all, or at least most of, the problems with housing in Auckland: in short, nobody’s building affordable houses, the prevelance of bespoke houses pushes up prices, and speculative capital raises them even more. But his solutions were all, well, not solutions. Try to make consenting (which is quick by international standards) even quicker, more sprawl.
He was particularly funny on the bespoke housing issue. I’ll paraphrase because I can’t be bothered transcribing but, basically, he said ‘the problem is, we don’t have much in the way of large scale developers’. Hmm, I thought. If only Mr English knew of a large organisation, say the largest homeowner in New Zealand, that has historically taken the lead in development. Then, English reiterated his line that no-one’s been building entry-level homes since the 1970s. And I thought, hmmm, I wonder who was building all those entry level homes before the neoliberal revolution and whether that organisation might still be around. To round it off, his lamented that there was no-one with the capital needed for this scale of work and that there was a danger that, left to the private-sector developers, Christchurch would be rebuilt with expensive sprawl housing that no-one could afford to buy.
It was funny because the answer was right in front of him – as finance minister it is literally at his fingertips – but his ideological blinkers prevented him from seeing them.
Get the bloody government to do it, Bill. You own plenty of land, you’ve got the capital, and the State isn’t (or shouldn’t be) out to make a quick buck so it can do low-return affordable housing. Just do what the State used to do – come up with a few dozen (energy-efficient, eco-friendly) modular designs and get building.
With efficiencies of scale, you can get the homes built for around $200,000 each (that’s what a basic eco-home from Lockwood costs). Think of the number of houses that a billion a year could build – and that’s chump change to a government that has spent $280 billion in four years. And how many jobs would that create?
It’s sensible, simple, and we’ve done it before the neoliberal revolution (in other words, just the kind of idea that sends Granny Herald into fits). But English just can’t go there. It’ll work but he would rather come up with his ‘do nothing’ plan and fail, just as he has on the economy.
We need a government that can go there, that can adopt sensible, economic, and sustainable solutions on housing.