Housing trust chief slams ‘short cuts’ approach to NZ homes crisis

Kiwi Build … criticised as not an affordable housing solution for many New Zealanders as only caters for middle class people with higher household incomes. Image: Rahul Bhattarai/PMC

By Rahul Bhattarai

A housing trust chief executive has condemned the government for taking “short cuts” to tackle New Zealand’s housing crisis.

“We need to stop pulling rabbits out of hats and looking for quick fixes,” said Bernie Smith, CEO of Monte Cecilia Housing Trust.

Speaking at the annual Bruce Jesson Foundation lecture in Auckland on the topic “housing crisis – a smoking gun with no silver bullet”, he soundly criticised the government for not doing enough to provide affordable housing.

“A bit dramatic but I am known to be dramatic from time to time.”

READ MORE: Tūhoe leader’s address to deliver ‘hard truths’ about New Zealand

He said that there were no short-cuts to building affordable housing.


Smith has 40 years of experience in various forms of leadership in state and local government and not-for-profit sector.

The lecture has been delivered in previous years by prominent figures such as investigative journalist Nicky Hager and a former prime minister, David Lange, in honour of the late journalist and political thinker Bruce Jesson.

Bernie Smith … “We need to stop the blame game, we need to stop thinking central or local government will resolve this issue.” Image: Rahul Bhattarai/PMC

Work together
To resolve the housing crisis, Smith said the government and bureaucrats needed to work together and have a generational housing strategy that “builds strong housing communities for the present and the future generations”.

The coalition has been in government for 11 months and it has been “claiming all the issues that we are confronted with today are solely due to previous government”, he said.

“We need to stop the blame game, we need to stop thinking central or local government will resolve this issue, that housing first or some other programme is a quick fix,” he said.

Barry Wilson, president of Auckland Council for Civil Liberties, said that the political parties should be working together to “house the homeless in a comfortable secure condition”.

“There should be some unified political approach, it’s not productive every time they change the government,” Wilson said.

Long term strategy
New Zealand needs a 25 to 30-year-long housing strategy “that every political party agrees and signs to”, Smith said

“Labour has a plan that National is trying to drag down. What they should do is be working together on a long-term plan, not one that depends on the three-year election cycle,” Wilson said.

New Zealand housing strategy should be created not by the politicians or bureaucrats, rather by the people from the community, who have lived with experience, like the homeless, the renters, community housing providers, and people form wide ethnic communities including Māori or Pasifika, Smith said.

“A strategy that looks at the whole of the continuum and recognises into generational living affordable rentals, affordable home ownership, does not forget a strategy that includes building strong healthy and safe communities with clear mile stones and targets,” he said.

Smith said the country needed to have a strategy that is housing community “value” focused rather than the housing “volume” focused.

Community value was focused when each and every individual is seen as equal no matter their housing option, either state housing, private renter, or an owner-occupier.

Overcrowded households
In Auckland there are 92,000 households living in unaffordable rental situations spending more than the 30 percent of their net income on rent.

“Thirty six thousand households living in overcrowded conditions.”

In Auckland alone, there is 20,300 homeless people, where the Māori population is five times and Pasifika 10 times more disproportionately affected.

Kiwi Build was not an affordable housing solution to many New Zealanders as it was only affordable to middle class people with higher household incomes, Smith said.

Smith said it was noted at a recent Kiwi Build Affordability meeting with Auckland city mayor Phil Goff:

“Auckland Council’s chief economist stated in July that to buy a 3-bedroom Kiwi Build house at $650,000 they will need either an income of $106,000 with a $130k (20 percent) deposit or an income of $120,000 and a $65,000 (10 percent deposit) for the household to affordably purchase a Kiwi Build home (and that is with debt servicing ratio of 35 percent.

“This means that Kiwi Build houses are only affordable for the top 40 percent of Auckland’s households.”

Housing issue not just ethnic – Pākehā leaders have ‘failed’, says author
Pasifika voters want ‘hand-ups, not hand-outs’ in NZ housing crisis

The Auckland housing continuum. Image: Rahul Bhattarai/PMC

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Housing issue not just ethnic – Pākehā leaders have ‘failed’, says author

AUT Policy Observatory’s Dr David Hall (from left, podium) with fellow “fair borders” panellists Dr Arama Rata, Andrew Chen and Dr Evelyn Masters at last night’s discussion. Image: Rhahul Bhattarai/PMC

By Rahul Bhattarai

Author and researcher David Hall has criticised anti-immigration rhetoric in New Zealand’s housing crisis, saying a more serious problem is “Pākehā leaders … failing to take action”.

Speaking at a panel discussion at Auckland University of Technology last night, Dr Hall, editor of the book Fair Borders: Migration Policy in the 21st Century, said harm and hurt from such rhetoric created side effects impacting on migrants.

Negativity directed towards home buyers with Chinese sounding surnames diverted attention from “long lines of people with British sounding surnames” that held and continued to hold powerful and influential positions over the housing issue.

Although there is an ethnic dimension to housing crises, he said that the most significant issue was that “Pākehā leaders supported by electorates with Pākehā majorities [were] failing to take action.”

Dr Hall, senior researcher of AUT’s Policy Observatory, was joined by three of the book’s contributors, Andrew Chen, Dr Arama Rata and Dr Evelyn Masters, to discuss how New Zealand’s borders impacted on its citizens, recent immigrants, and on people barred from the country.

Dr Hall said that over emphasis and over simplification of the role of immigration was not just a way of avoiding taking action, it was a way of avoiding responsibility for taking action and that helped nobody – “not even Pākehā and I say that as a Pākehā myself”.


He pointed out that one continuous theme was the failure of successful decision makers to make the tough decision that might have made a difference, such as the mayors of Auckland going back to the 1990s or the housing ministers.

“There is bit of pattern here,” he said.

‘Tricky’ issues
Dr Hall said that house prices had been rising since 1990s and only eight years ago there were more people leaving the country than were arriving, yet the house prices rose during the negative migration period.

The issue was “very tricky” with some of the genuine social strains such as housing affordability and policy and its relationship to migration.

The debate treated “immigration as an economic medicine that might taste a little bad and people just need to put up with which also doesn’t do anything to address peoples’ genuine worries”.

This was not his story to tell as no one ever challenged him based on the colour of his skin.
“As a Pākehā this isn’t really my story to tell because no one ever challenges me on whether I belong here, no one ever suggests to me that I shouldn’t be speaking English in public and no one tells me to leave by virtue of my appearance but this happens all the time to people,” he said.

Dr Arama Rata, a research officer at the University of Waikato, said that in New Zealand there was a border in place which was established by the invaders.

Māori border ignored
But the “Māori border has been ignored, a new imposition of state authority is being imposed, borders have been closed around the nation state to allow certain desirable white migrants in and to exclude others, and now we have a very secure racist structure in place”.

She said borders needed to be in place but, “it should be controlled more by our values rather than just purely economic incentives and the way I think we need to stop framing immigration as a problem”.

Dr Evelyn Masters, with Pākehā lineage and Cook Islands heritage that she is really proud of, said she struggled in explaining her New Zealand identity because people judged her based on her appearance.

Dr Masters, research manager of NZ Institute for Pacific Research, said people struggled to understand that she had multiple lineage in her blood line and wanted to be known as a New Zealander.

She did not have to be just one race because she looked brown, she said.

“I just want to say that I am a New Zealander, because my experience is I am multiple – I have brown people and white people in my family, why do I have to be just one as you see me.”

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: The Coalition’s very clever ban on foreign house sales

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: The Coalition’s very clever ban on foreign house sales

Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: The Coalition’s very clever ban on foreign house sales

Dr Bryce Edwards.

The new coalition government looks set to record a big political win with its very clever plan to ban house sales to foreigners. Previously Labour’s policy of banning foreigners from buying houses in New Zealand had appeared to be a difficult promise to achieve – mainly because of the government’s responsibilities under existing and upcoming trade deals.

The main problem was with the looming Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal, which Labour may well sign New Zealand up to. But it now seems that the coalition government can avert any conflict between the ban and the trade deal, simply by introducing the ban before the TPP is signed and implemented. Patrick Gower explains it like this: “Ardern has got into power, asked the officials and they have come up with a very simple ‘hack’ – bring in the ban before the trade deal is signed off. If this is true, it was a damn easy fix” – see: Jacinda Ardern goes for 2-for-1 ban and TPP deal.

What will the foreign buyer ban achieve?

Auckland housing market.

Obviously the intention of the ban is to reduce competition for buying houses, therefore limiting price increases. But will this really work?

Not according to former National staffer Gwynn Compton, who says the effect of the ban will be “None. Zilch. Nada” – see: The pointlessness of a foreign buyer ban. He says “Australia implemented the same thing in December 2008 it had no impact there either. In fact, much like New Zealand’s prices, house prices in Sydney and Melbourne have nearly doubled since 2008.”

Referring to the fact that foreigners will still be allowed to buy new houses, Compton says that the only impact of the new rules will be to shift “the two or three per cent of property investment that comes from overseas from existing homes to new builds instead. The small resulting increase in prices there pushes citizens and residents back into the existing home market, and thus increases competition there by the same amount. The overall result? You’re no better off than you were before, unless you’re a property developer.”

Property Institute CEO Ashley Church also emphasises that the main impact will be to push investment towards new builds. He was quoted on TVNZ Breakfast saying, “It’s not a ban, it’s a redirection of investment… Foreign investors who want to invest in New Zealand residential property they can still do so, but they’ve got to invest it in the construction of new buildings. That’s a good thing for the economy, with 40,000 houses in Auckland required almost straight away” – see: Foreign buyer ban ‘more symbolic’, effect on first home buyers ‘almost none’, says Property Institute CEO.

Real estate agents also think the ban will have little impact on their business – see Adriana Weber’s Foreign home-buyer ban: will it make any difference? The same article cites economist Gareth Kiernan saying that “many foreigners had already been squeezed out of the market by the banks toughening up restrictions on foreign investors.”

Kiernan is also quoted on the slowdown of overseas investment in housing in Susan Edmunds’ article, Foreign buyer ban will affect small proportion of property sales. He says “the major banks have stopped approving mortgages based on overseas income” and the “Chinese government has also tightened the restrictions around the ability of Chinese nationals to move money out of China”.

In the same article BNZ chief economist Tony Alexander warns “we don’t know to what extent buyers will find ways around the rules, such as getting friends and relations already here to purchase on their behalf, as has apparently been happening in the Asian communities, according to anecdotes”.

The foreign buyer ban is politically powerful

David Parker, New Zealand’s Minister for Economic Development, Minister for the Environment, Minister for Trade and Export Growth, and Attorney-General.

The coalition government has stepped back from suggesting that the change will make a huge difference to housing affordability. Instead, David Parker is emphasising that the ban is an “important point of principle” – see Laura Walters’ How much of a difference will the foreign house buyers ban make?

Parker has been focusing on the more ideological aspect of how the ban fits into the fight against inequality, saying the ban is aimed at the rich elite and will affect the “one per cent” – see Sarah Robson’s Foreign home buyers to be banned – PM. Parker explains: “Just about everyone who buys who’s a foreign person buying into New Zealand – they’re a very very wealthy ‘1 percenter’… And I think that’s one of the excesses of global capital, when you allow those sorts of interests to influence your housing market.”

Therefore, this big first move of the coalition government can be seen as symbolically very important. And that’s what Patrick Gower argued this morning, saying “It sends the symbol that this Government is different to the last one, on housing in particular” – see Newshub’s Labour’s foreign housing ban ‘symbolism’ – Patrick Gower. And he says it will be politically powerful: “Gower argued the ban is supported by two-thirds of the public, and the Government will get credit from voters for instituting it.”

An even more sceptical view is that this big announcement can be seen as a sop to leftwing coalition supporters who are soon going to have to accept the Government signing up to the TPP. This is the argument made by Rob Hosking in the NBR: “So this week’s announcement was part distortion – the foreign buyers announcement is good crowd-pleasing stuff but it won’t mean much at this point in the housing cycle – and part the start of a softening process” – see: Ardern drops ‘sovereignty’ concerns over TPP (paywalled).

To go even further, here’s Mike Hosking’s view that the housing buying ban is entirely pragmatic: “This so-called ban is window dressing, it’s xenophobic, made-up political bollocks for expediency purposes and nothing else. It’s the move you make to make you look like you’re doing something, when in reality it’s for headlines and coalition promises – not for any real effect. It’s the work of inexperienced amateurs” – see: Foreign house buyer ban ‘xenophobic bollocks’.

Labour’s beef with National

Patrick Gower says this could be a big win for the prime minister, and predicts “It will be extremely embarrassing for National, if she pulls this off, as it said it could never be done.” And National’s prior role in trying to prevent Labour from achieving a ban is now in the spotlight.

Ardern herself has come out and criticised the former National Government, saying that it now seems they didn’t even ask their officials for advice on whether a ban on foreigners buying houses was possible. Some speculate that National actually went out of their way to “wedge” Labour on the issue.

Vernon Small explains that when the former government was negotiating the TPP, it deliberately chose not to include the possibility for a future government to implement a foreigner ban on house buying. He asks: “Was National’s decision to exclude a ban on foreign buyers of Kiwi homes from free trade deals a poison pill left for Labour to swallow?” – see: Foreign buyers ban in, Labour points finger at Nats for ‘misleading’ over free trade clash.

Small reports that “there has been speculation that former prime minister John Key and his team were explicit – leave it out. If they were so weasel-cunning it’s easy to see how the logic would flow; create an irreconcilable clash between Labour’s policy on foreign house buyers and the TPP so they can have one but not the other.”

Labour clearly blames National and its former trade negotiator, Tim Groser for the problem. New minister for trade negotiations, David Parker, has expressed bitter disappointment that National wouldn’t cooperate with Labour, so as to maintain a bi-partisan consensus on trade agreements. In an interview with the Herald, Parker says: “It has absolutely been clear for many, many years that the Labour Party in terms of trying to maintain bipartisan consensus around this has been strong on this ability to have New Zealand markets for our land, not international markets, and therefore how the last government chose to do that was an attempt to wedge us” – see Audrey Young’s David Parker targets trade deal and bar on house sales to overseas buyers.

Of course, now Groser is the Government’s diplomatic representative in Washington, and the question of his re-call is therefore on the agenda. Parker says this is a matter for Winston Peters, as Foreign Minister, to decide, but adds: “He is one of the people who wedged us on this issue” and “He was pretty central to those decisions.”

The AgriHQ publication has recently put across the view that in the previous National Government, “Tim Groser tried and failed to persuade Cabinet colleagues to accommodate the Labour Party’s previous policy of restricting house purchases by non-residents to preserve a long-standing consensus on trade policy between the two major parties” – see Nigel Stirling’s Groser backed trade policy. However, according to this account, “the recommendation never saw the light of day after a ‘captain’s call’ from then Prime Minister John Key and National campaign manager Steven Joyce in the middle of the Korean talks meant Groser was forced to back down.”

This is also covered by Richard Harman in his column, Did National play politics with MFAT’s TPP advice? Harman says this account reinforces the “suspicion that National played partisan politics with the TPP.” But he points to a briefing paper produced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which also appears to give poor advice on these issues. Harman says: “That calls into question the quality of the advice given to the previous Government on the TPP and raises the question as to whether it was advice tailored to be acceptable to the National Government”.

Finally, for satire on this issue, see my blog post, Cartoons about foreign house sales and TPP.