Money and misery

It is a strange thing when an announcement of $50million for vital infrastructure in Queenstown fails to make much of an impression.

That appears to be the case, however. The money is part of the $1billion of infrastructure funds announced by Prime Minister Bill English on Tuesday to ''speed up the delivery of 60,000 houses across our fastest-growing population centres over the next 10 years''.

It is, apparently, ''another major step forward'' in the Government's plan to address the non-existent housing crisis (it continues to label the country's housing affordability and availability issues as a challenge, not a crisis).

Queenstown's piece of the pie is to fund infrastructure projects to support 3200 new houses in two new greenfield sites (Quail Rise South and Ladies Mile) on the Frankton Flats and an extension of the Kingston township.

But, rather than widespread excitement, the response has been increased unease about community consultation and the zoning of land under the Special Housing Areas process.

Even in Auckland (which gets $300million towards 10,500 houses), reception has been muted.

Perhaps that is because the $1billion infrastructure fund was first announced in July last year - and only after the Government was roundly criticised for failing to provide for infrastructure funding in the 2016 Budget. The infrastructure fund was then reannounced as part of this May's Budget. The third announcement, then, only confirms which of the struggling areas that applied to the fund get what.

Perhaps there is little excitement because the ''funds'' are actually loans, and they could affect councils' credit ratings. Perhaps it is because there is cynicism about the allocation announcement, two months out from the general election. Perhaps it is because, for those areas at the front line of the crisis (most notably Queenstown and Auckland), any announcement is only an announcement and whatever construction it generates is already far too little, too late.

In Queenstown, while developments are under way, not a single dwelling has yet been completed under the much-lauded Queenstown Housing Accord of 2013, with its Special Housing Areas legislation (there are seven SHAs in Queenstown). A renewed accord was also announced on Wednesday - this time promising 3750 houses by the end of 2019. Until lower- and middle-income individuals, couples and families are actually living in these houses, and not waiting years longer for them, the figures and the promises are meaningless.

Clutha-Southland MP Todd Barclay (under a shadow over secret recordings of an electorate office staff member and due to leave Parliament after the election) says 40% of the promised 3200 homes under the infrastructure fund will be ''affordable''. But who can confirm what an affordable figure even is in a million-dollar housing market?

Likewise in Auckland, where houses are finally being built, but where it turns out no records of ''affordable'' quotas or sales are available. Not much icing on a very stale cake, then, for those who are not cashing in on the housing crisis.

In Queenstown, that means seasonal workers, hospitality workers, foreign workers, local workers, single people, young couples, families and the elderly, many of whom are struggling to find affordable rental accommodation, let alone buy their own home. Caravans, tents, cabins and crammed flats are the new normal.

In the meantime, developers sit on land, stage their developments, or sell off parts to other building companies. Speculators and investors from around the country and beyond are having a field day, and landlords are making a killing in the rental market.

There is plenty of money to be made, but for most, the housing crisis simply means more misery.

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