Regional solution to housing

Housing affordability is a problem not going away for first-home buyers, despite the best efforts of the Government to provide some help to those anxious to start a life in their new home.

New Zealanders love property and, as a nation, the emphasis has been for generations on the concept of owning your own home.

The ideal of the ''quarter-acre section'' has long since passed for many, but home ownership remains the Kiwi dream for most.

Unfortunately, without some intervention, it appears a generation of young New Zealanders will be destined to rent their homes for their lifetime.

The Auckland housing market continues to skew the statistics for the rest of New Zealand and while the Reserve Bank's high loan-to-value restrictions have helped somewhat in Auckland, and perhaps Christchurch, the rest of the country has a reverse situation.

Three property reports released recently demonstrate the problem.

Auckland remains the problem child of the property market.

A young couple need to earn nearly $1600 a week between them to afford a mortgage of a low quartile house which is estimated to be worth $544,500 in Auckland.

The mortgage, with a 20% deposit, would eat up $733 of their combined income, leaving them $803 a week to live on.

That amount of money sounds a reasonable figure, but transport, rates, insurance, living expenses can take a significant amount of money in Auckland.

Queenstown is rated as barely affordable for a young couple but the demographics of the Lakes district are much different from those in Auckland.

Young people seeking a career in Queenstown face major housing difficulties.

Auckland and Central Otago-Lakes also led the house price surge last month.

Auckland won the latest contest with an average asking price of $766,212. Central Otago-Lakes was second on $731,640 with the rest of the country well back.

The Reserve Bank has consistently ruled out the idea of having different lending rules for places outside Auckland, although it has gathered strength in the South.

Dunedin, Invercargill, Timaru and Nelson are seen as very affordable places for first-home buyers, but the consistent drift north of jobs and government services, in particular, make it difficult for young people to find work.

To find work, many go to Auckland or Christchurch, and the problem continues.

Dunedin has a median house price of $281,500 and Invercargill's price is $210,000. If more could be done to encourage people to live and work in the South - say through a regional development policy - some of Auckland's housing problems will disappear.

High migration is a key cause of higher housing prices in Auckland.

The downturn in the Australian economy has seen record numbers of Kiwis return home looking for work.

The mining industry has been in the doldrums for years. Those even with essential jobs are facing shorter hours and less pay.

Housing is unaffordable for many in Western Australia and the eastern seaboard. New Zealand's economy is set to grow above 3% for the next year, and while wage growth has been slow, demand for skilled workers has allowed some people to negotiate better deals for themselves.

On April 1, the Government's HomeStart package for 90,000 first-home buyers came into effect.

The HomeStart grant for a couple after five years of contributing to KiwiSaver is $10,000 for an existing home and $20,000 for a new home.

However, already there are warnings about capacity constraints with building consents issued last month falling sharply from January. R

esidential construction had lifted sharply in both Auckland and Canterbury and now non-residential building activity was taking centre stage.

The HomeStart package will take years to filter through into more available, and affordable housing.

This is now the time for the Government, and the Reserve Bank, to start thinking about different ways to solve what appears to be a never-ending problem of housing shortages in the country's two largest cities.

There is plenty of capacity in the regions, if only someone would take note.

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