The country is short about 10,000 houses and many of the houses we do have (mostly privately owned rentals) are unhealthy. The housing shortage was a driver of the last housing boom and is still keeping house prices excessively high, while poor quality housing means higher health costs, more sick days, and kids that are sick so often it disrupts their education. It would be sensible on every level to build the extra houses we need, and the government should take the lead role.
The government is the only body that can afford to put up that kind of capital.
I’m not talking about more endlessly sprawling suburbs. We need smart communities with good population density, local commerce and public transport into the main jobs centres. We need smart urban design that plans ahead at every level and we need smart housing as well.
The government should lead construction of thousands of eco-smart homes that use sustainable materials and are warm and energy efficient. In the 1930s, state houses set a new standard for housing for the working class, they should again.
Mass-produced designs using local materials could create thousands of jobs. And using something like HIB’s awesome modular system which recently won the prize to build green homes in tornado-devastated Greensburg, where the houses are assembled from giant hollow wooden ‘bricks’ that fit together like lego, could actually let the people who are going to end up living in the houses participate in their construction.
The next element, I think, is to use a massive state housing construction programme as a stepping stone to increased home ownership. Let tenants rent to own but place a stipulation on the title that, once a state house passes int private ownership, it can’t be leased out. That would prevent families being priced out of the market by hands of private landlords who, last time state houses were sold, bought up state houses at prices the tenants couldn’t afford and then let them fall into disrepair while charging high rents. Ideally, the government could could compete modern slum landlords out of the market like it did in the 1930s.
By building high-quality, healthy eco-homes, on-selling them to tenants who wanted to buy, and then re-investing the recouped costs in more houses, the government could dramatically improve New Zealand’s housing stock in a relatively short space of time.
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