Housing continues to dominate

The Government, Labour and the Greens are rushing out housing policy this week as the debate over affordable housing and who can provide the best option for first-home buyers continues unabated.

Housing Minister Nick Smith and his Associate Minister Paula Bennett released figures estimating there were 11,850 HomeStart grants available to support Canterbury - although they failed to qualify their statement headline in their following media statement.

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe said a couple earning about $75,000 a year would be $200 a week better off buying a two-bedroom terraced KiwiBuild home instead of an equivalent new build under National's policy.

And Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said her party's key housing policy for the election was to deliver healthy houses for the poorest children by improving the quality of rental accommodation and rights of tenants.

The Greens proposed a warrant of fitness for all rented houses to ensure all children were growing up in warm and healthy homes.

About $3 million of extra funding would be available to help families taking action against substandard rental housing and insulating another 200,000 homes would be undertaken at a cost of $327 million.

''Renting is the new reality for many New Zealanders and it's time for laws around safety, quality and security of our rental homes to be updated to reflect this.''

More than one million adults and 400,000 children now lived in rental homes, Mrs Turei said.

Dr Smith said a record 380 houses were built in Canterbury each month, more than treble the historic average of 100 homes a month.

KiwiSaver HomeStart would complement other initiatives by helping young people get together the deposit and loan for their first home, encouraging more homes to be built in an affordable range.

Canterbury remains a major focus for the Government as it seeks to maintain its commanding vote from the 2011 election.

Dr Smith said the second chance component of HomeStart would be important for Canterbury where there were people who had lost their equity in their home in the ''extraordinary circumstances'' of the earthquakes.

A non-first home buyer who might not have been insured, who might have been under-insured or through some other circumstances had ended up with no home and little equity would be able to receive a HomeStart grant.

To qualify, their equity needed to be less than 20% of the new house price cap of $450,000, or $90,000, he said.

Mr Cunliffe said National's policy to give grants to first-home buyers to buy new build homes did nothing to address supply and rein in runaway house prices. Instead, house prices were likely to rise higher.

Labour's KiwiBuild policy would build 100,000 new affordable homes over 10 years and sell them at cost to first-home buyers, he said.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said foreign-owned building and land development companies would profit from National throwing money at home buyers.

China was likely to be one of the beneficiaries of National's limp plan to deal with the housing crisis, Mr Peters said.

''Foreign companies have been major buyers of land around Auckland and land banking it for future subdivisions. Aucklanders know it and many are concerned,'' he said.

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