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Medium density housing is now the Auckland way

Written By: - Date published: 9:19 am, November 27th, 2012 - 34 comments
Categories: housing, labour - Tags:

Reading the comment swarm in OpenMike last night, it was clear that someone wasn’t doing their job in briefing.

Sure a section of land sufficient to build a traditional 3 bedroom house in Auckland is bloody expensive and would cost as much as Labour’s budgeted amounts in KiwiBuild. That is obvious. So don’t build those types of property. Build something that requires less land.

FFS it isn’t that hard. A brief lookup on my single bedroom studio Grey Lynn/Newton apartment at the Auckland City Council website revealed

Assessment 01 July 2011

Land value: $85,000
Capital value: $205,000

So the important thing to notice is that the land value of my apartment was $85,000 out of $205,000. The reason why it is so low is because this is medium density housing. This apartment block is single bedroom single floor apartments (in which two people live easily) three levels high on top of two levels of car park.  There are 60 apartments in total in the block. I’ve lived here off and on for almost 15 years now – it is great. It  does have curtains for this blogger to ‘hide’ behind. It also has a rather pleasant polished concrete floor.

Behind my apartment block there is a block of 37 semi-detached 3 bedroom 3 story town houses with a garage sitting on a slightly larger block of land to that used by our 60 apartments. Taking one at random

Land value: $170,000
Capital value: $365,000

The land area is larger mainly because of the driveways. Having individual garages take almost as much land area footprint as the townhouses themselves. If the design had placed the town houses on top of , or next to a communal carpark, then the land footprint would have reduced correspondingly.

Now this is medium density housing just outside the Auckland central business district. Just up the road there is Ponsonby Road and K Road. The land values around here are horrendous compared to somewhere like Mt Albert. But look at those land values again. When the design efficiently makes use of land area, then the land cost isn’t that significant.

You don’t need bloody expensive large sections. If you want one then pay for it yourself. In terms of the government relieving housing pressure in Auckland and elsewhere with a building program then everything is in the design. This is no different to what was required back in the 1930’s when the construction of state houses was different from the usual houses at the time because it made the best use of scarce resources.

Labour’s kiwibuild should be building apartments and town houses, preferably with communal car parking, somewhere along a transport corridor. Even if bare land isn’t available, then it isn’t that expensive to buy old light industrial sites in the inner suburbs (like my apartment used to be) and put up medium density housing.

There is absolutely no reason to go to the outskirts of Auckland to build. There the cost of long commutes can easily match the lower cost housing mortgage payments.

And can I hesitantly (for fear of being labelled ‘anonymous’ yet again) suggest that perhaps the Labour caucus should actually read the blogs. The best source for basic information on solutions and issues on Auckland’s housing and transport tradeoffs is at Auckland Transport Blog.

Could Labour please, please stop muffing up their own policies so I can get on with having a go at National.


34 comments on “Medium density housing is now the Auckland way”

  1. Mike Boon 1

    Remember though… National and Lord Key have never let facts get in the way of their point making.

  2. rosy 2

    Exactly. If Auckland is going to be a grown up city then it really needs to embrace medium density housing. When that finally happens the style and standards of medium density housing will improve too. Added to this will be the improved viability of public transport systems due to more people in less space along transport corridors.

  3. Lanthanide 3

    “So the important thing to notice is that the land value of my apartment was $85,000 out of $205,000.”

    Actually the total value of your property is Land + Capital = $290,000. So it is $85k out of $290k.

    • lprent 3.1

      Nope. I checked on the assessment that came through earlier this year. The assessment at the time for the whole property including land was $205k.

      As much as I’d like the value to be $290k – it is not. Read my linked post from last week about the current values for the apartment next door.

      Incidentally, if the ‘land value’ for all of these apartments was $85k, then times 60, the land the apartment is on is valued at $5.1 million. And the building is valued at $7.2 million in apartments alone (ie not counting the communal areas) as ($205k-$85k) * 60.

      From memory of the last body corporate insurance I looked at a few years ago, that would be about right because the building was insured for somewhere over $10 million including the communal areas.

      • Lanthanide 3.1.1

        Ok, well that’s now how the ratings work in CHCH, where they split land and capital value and your rates are calculated on the sum.

        • lprent

          Yeah that is a more logical way of doing it. For some reason that is apparently not how they do it here. The rateable value for this property is $205k

    • Fortran 3.2

      Ownership of apartment land is a small problem.
      Multi storey, I do not believe, can be totally freehold as the land is for joint lease, and who owns the lease.
      The apartment may be privately owned but the land cannot as more than one apartment is on the same piece of land ?
      Regular lease increase adjustments are generally built in – see Scene 3 in Auckland and the land lease arguments still underway.

      • lprent 3.2.1

        Leasehold land is only really an issue down town in Auckland.

        Somehow I don’t think that anyone would build medium density housing down town. And there is very very little leasehold land outside of the CBD apart from a few plots of church land in ponsonby and parnell.

  4. vto 4

    I’m with you lprent and have seen the facts in other scenarios. It is entirely achievable. Your point around the 1930’s houses being different from the norm at the time is also a good one.

    In addition, it does make me laugh how kiwis, priding themselves on being the most travelled people on the globe, run off and go on and on about how good those euro and other cities are, with their medium density terrace housing and apartments (think Edinburgh, London, Paris, Spanish towns and cities, on it goes) and yet cannot see how it could work here (as it in fact already does in countless places here). It is a form of ignorance.

    Housing as an issue is fraught because everybody thinks they are an expert.

    And yep, come on Shearer and Labour, lift your game. Sharpen up. Get on top and front step your issues. Laugh down Key and klowns. Move ahead and around them. Leave them in the dust. Sheesh.

  5. insider 5

    but most people don’t want to live in apartments. Labour is selling a family home ownership dream not a lifestyle option to dinkies. It would be crazy for Shearer to then say ‘home’ is a breeze block 2up 2down, semi detatched townhouse.

    • RedLogix 5.1

      So exactly how do you imagine Auckland will become a city of several million people if we’ve all got to conform to your McMansion and 700m2 of section lifestyle? Simple arithmetic would require it to keep on covering more and more land north and south.

      Is your imagination so limited that you cannot spot the problems with that?

    • vto 5.2

      ffs, this is aimed at those least able to afford housing. I know they would rather have either an apartment or a terrace house or a detachable (?) townhouse or a unit THAT BELONGS TO THEM rather than never ever get anything, especially a quarter acre pavlova paradise which is just dreamworld stuff. You’re dreaming. You doubters need to lift your thinking game. Think man think.

      Think of the strength that accretes to a community when it is owned by its inhabitants, compared to the transient and relatively weak communities that are all tenanted (some generaisations in that). Think of the sense of ownership, wellbeing, care for neighbours and the like that ownership creates.

      A tenant community is weaker. An owned community is stronger.

      • insider 5.2.1

        It’s David Shearer selling the quarter acre paradise with his policy. He does mention apartments but plays that down and keeps talking about the kiwi dream and similar, which is all about houses on sections. This is the dilemma he has – he can’t be honest about the consequences of his policy because he knows it won’t appeal.

        • vto

          Well there has not been a single thing about quarter acre paradises actually.

          And the (well, one of them) kiwi dream is home ownership. That already today comes about in many different ways.

          Your distortion of what has been presented is a reflection of your own mind only. My points above stand.

          • insider

            Shearer is selling his policy on traditional views of family home ownership. The accepted NZ stereotype of that is a freestanding house on a section. The only image used by Labour to show what might emerge from their plan is of a freestanding house. You can try and reimagine the ‘kiwi ambition’ as an apartment or townhouse, but you will be fighting that cultural battle largely alone. (note it was you that raised the quarter acre stereotype in the first place)

            In Shearer’s own words

            “Labour will oversee and invest in a large-scale 10 year programme of home building focussed on
            modest entry-level houses for sale to first home buyers.”

            “Owning your own home is a Kiwi ambition ”

            “We’ll oversee and invest in a large scale 10 year building programme of entry-level houses that Kiwis are crying out for. ”

            “I won’t stand by while the dream of home ownership slips away from future generations.”

            “I won’t give up on the Kiwi dream of an affordable home.”

            • vto

              insider, repeating things doesn’t make them anymore true.

              i repeat all my points above.

              do you imagine that an apartment or a townhouse or a unit or a detachable or a terrace is not a home? in those quotes you provide he only once mentions a house. on each other occasion he references homes, not houses. and anyway, do you imagine people living in a townhouse don’t refer to it as a house?

              further, i disagree that those who this is aimed at will be expecting a full blown free-standing house on a section. people aren’t silly you know.

              as i said – i repeat all previous points. because repitition makes it more true. he

              • insider

                vto you need to go back to what I said originally. I don’t disagree with you that the logic of the Labour plan would be apartments and townhouses in auckland, nor am I against it. But that is not what they are selling – instead they are trying to wrap it up in a heritage view of home ownership.

                • vto

                  fair enough. perhaps some points get lost in the enthusiasm i have for increasing home ownership in nz.

                  as i said, tenant communities tend to be weak and ownership communities tend to be strong.

                  onwards ….

                • lprent

                  Probably will be – outside of Auckland. Problem with Auckland is that the city is too damn big already, so we’ll need to grow up.

        • Draco T Bastard

          This is the dilemma he has – he can’t be honest about the consequences of his policy because he knows it won’t appeal.

          Wrong, he (or possibly just you) thinks it won’t appeal. I happen to think it would appeal to a great deal of people.

          • insider

            I think you think wrong, and so does the research

            “In terms of general dwelling attributes the vast majority of 18-40 year old participants across all types and tenures aspired to live in larger dwellings (villas rather than units), on large sections often in the same suburbs. Home owners were driven by the needs of growing children. ”


            • Draco T Bastard

              vast majority != all

              And I think that a lot of those 18 to 40 year olds will be just like me. Think that apartments are really horrible – until they live in one.

              • Or have lived in apartments and don’t like them.
                FWIW (personal anecdote coming up) I know very few people indeed who prefer apartments to stand alone after having lived in both

                • karol

                  It all depends on the building.  i was very happy living in apartment blocks in my younger days in various countries.  In my older years I prefer a little space and outdoors around me and quiet.  But you can also get noisy neighbours in the burbs.

                  I’d be OK again in a block of flats if they were noise-insulated, and had some green spaces around them. 

              • insider

                Where did I say “all”?

    • Pete 5.3

      I think there could well be a demand for “Melrose Place” styles of units closer to urban centres – provinding a medium between cramped apartments and sections in distant suburbia. Particularly for young couples or families with one child.

    • NickS 5.4


      It’s not that hard to build medium density housing that isn’t cramped and difficult to live in, that’s an issue created by architects not bothering with liveability factors due to property developer’s need for maximising profit. Which is why I see so many apartments and modern houses with tiny hallways and stairwells, barely big enough for two people to go past each other.

      Take into account better the needs of the occupants, plus modern CAD systems that allow you to alter the design on the fly and it really shouldn’t be difficult to create low cost, highly liveable, medium density housing plans.

      Add in shared greenspaces or roof gardens (which in Canterbury/Wellington also means the building will fit earthquake standards), or decently sized balconies and you increase liveability even further.

  6. geoff 6

    Nice post LPRENT, agree on all points.

  7. weka 7

    To put this in a sustainability context –
    Make sure that there is enough land left for growing food. With Peak Oil ,CC, and the GFC, the ability to grow food locally (and the skills) will be one of the most valuable things in 20 years time (individually and communally). Call them parks in the meantime, just leave enough green spaces (this is good for health and communities anyway).
    Smaller homes are easier to heat. Again, future proof so that when electricity becomes expensive and/or intermittent, it’s easier to stay warm.
    Ditto passive solar.
    Permaculture co-founder David Holmgren did some work on retro-fitting the suburbs that applies to NZ and Oz. He says that we now have dormitory suburbs, where people sleep in houses (with lots of unused rooms) and then go away to work, eat, recreate. His plan involves increasing the numbers of people living in houses to what they were in the 50s and 60s, and relocalising the economy so that some people can work from home or the local neighbourhood.

    • thomas 7.1

      “Make sure that there is enough land left for growing food”
      I thought that was one of the aims of increasing the density of cities? Reducing/Limiting sprawl saves productive farmland from being transformed into ashphalt, mown grass and ticky-tac. I would say that productive agricultural land around Pukekohe will still be local to Auckland even if oil prices rise higher – there is a train line that runs from there to the city.

      • weka 7.1.1

        There’s a difference between farming as part of the global capitalist economy (where the point is to make profit/money off the back of cheap oil and land degradation) and growing food locally (where the point is to feed the neighbourhood with the lowest environmental footprint possible).

        I don’t know Auckland very well, but I would guess that any push to containing urban sprawl as a way of preserving farming is for economic reasons (and the farming will be geared towards monocropping and heavy fertiliser/pesticide use), not sustainability ones or to provide affordable, healthy food locally.

        Here’s what the cool kids are doing in the Auckland area –



        There’s no good reason not to do medium density housing AND green spaces.

  8. The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 8

    You don’t need bloody expensive large sections. If you want one then pay for it yourself.

    But there are circumstances in which people should not have to pay for their own housing, obviously. These are, if they not owned a home before and are one of the lucky few to have been selected at random by a government which professes fairness as a core value.

    If you are not selected at random, pay for it yourself.

    • lprent 8.1

      Of course what I was saying (and following in your meme). “Let them have apartments and town houses..”

      I love living in an apartment. And as various people have pointed out, in Auckland and the other major urban centres, the major cost component in low cost housing is the the price of the land. So just use less of it per person and do it within the footprint of the current urban areas to minimize the additional building costs for extending roads, sewerage, parks, and other services that typically cost the ‘owners’ or rate payers a bomb.

      I realize that this isn’t likely to please land bankers and new subdivision developers on the city outskirts. But frankly they only want to build frigging macMansions anyway. Just load the full cost of the services on to the developers and open that up a little (but there really isn’t any real shortage of available land – just a shortage of buyers wanting to have such a long commute).

  9. Marcus50 9

    You only need to look across the ditch to Sydney and Melbourne to see that Medium density housing must be part of Auckland’s planning framework. Medium density housing is the way to reduce the land input cost and to achieve the efficiencies being looked for in the labour programme the resource management act needs to work far more efficiently than it does currently and there needs to be an overhaul of the consenting process.

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