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Central government imagined it could solve the housing crisis by building new housing. Now that it has realised that its operational arm is close to non-existent, there is increased enthusiasm for carrying out promises around housing by making rules.
The barriers to increased housing availability have not changed.
First, we need plenty of land available so scarcity will not encourage higher prices.
This is an issue since there are few places to build new housing around Dunedin once all the good ideas and rules about protection come into place.
We have a declared climate emergency along with our housing emergency. So we apparently should have rules to prevent housing where there may be flooding when the sea level rises, i.e. not in South Dunedin or anywhere around the harbour in reclaimed land, or around Jetty St or Wharf St, for obvious reasons.
And it is important not to build on land which may be good for growing food. This would include the Taieri Plain and anywhere else with good soil. And anywhere with a good climate for growing which would take in areas towards Port Chalmers.
We should not consider residential development beyond current infrastructure, which would mean the city should prohibit anything beyond current pipes and bus routes. Creating more public transport links looks attractive but does not sort out the disadvantage of people travelling a long way to get to anywhere they need to be.
Virtue lies also in watching out for historic areas which should be protected along with culturally sensitive sites. There may be critically endangered ephemeral wetlands, or biodiversity which should be protected.
All in all, it is difficult to find land to build on which is acceptable.
Secondly, there needs to be more efficient consenting and building processes which will encourage new houses to be built and built more cheaply. This needs fewer and more practical rules, a direction which has eluded governments for many years.
And thirdly, to encourage more and affordable housing, the basic inputs for housing are important. This would involve removing barriers in the way of accessing raw materials.
Instead, the Government has made more rules around quarries which are putting pressure on building through not having access to aggregate for concrete, or causing the aggregate to be taken much further, wasting fuel and significantly increasing the costs of building.
And all these extra rules are arriving at just the time other housing materials and builders are in short supply.
For those who cannot afford to buy a house, there is another set of new rules designed to improve the standards of rental accommodation. This would have seemed like a good idea on the basis that as more people will be renting rather than owning their homes, these rental homes should be warm and dry and comfortable.
But the result of new rules around rental houses is that the standard is so high as to be unachievable or expensive or just silly. The idea of not being allowed to let a house to someone without installing a range hood does look like serious overreach in the new rules department.
There are also new rules discouraging landlords by removing deductibility of interest on their investment, which means that being a landlord will be limited to those who can afford to own property without a mortgage. This could work for increasing access to home ownership by increasing affordability, if the price of houses drops significantly. However, not only could a serious drop in the value of houses be an issue, but the total number of houses does not increase, so those who still need to rent are chasing a decreasing supply of homes.
By the time we finish being virtuous by making rules protecting most places from development and demanding everyone provide rental accommodation at an unaffordable standard, the housing issues seem impossible to solve.
But since the Government seems wedded to more rules, here is a bold and innovative suggestion.
As of yet, the Government has not involved itself much with rules around which vehicles we use and how we should use them.
Apparently about half of vehicles being bought are now SUVs, which are much bigger than is required to potter around and get the shopping.
The Government could make new rules obliging all vehicles sold to be self-contained.
After all, if many of us will be sleeping in cars, we may as well make them liveable.
And as an added bonus we will be welcome in freedom camping areas.
It may be prudent for the Government to stop the move towards less parking around residential areas as well. Our sleeping cars will need to be connected to electrical sources even before they are mandated to be electric vehicles.
- Hilary Calvert is an Otago regional councillor, a former MP and former Dunedin city councillor.