Shamubeel Eaqub: A (small) win for Generation Rent
OPINION: The Auckland council has proposed new measures that will allow a little more density in desirable suburbs and around key transport corridors. These and many other changes are needed if we are to make a dent on Auckland's affordability crisis.
In reality the proposed changes are modest. Three story houses are hardly high-rises and many old houses in Epsom and grand old suburbs are already as tall as a modern three story houses. And of course the rules are only the maximum allowable and will not coerce anyone to sell their houses. No one in their right mind would see these rule changes as opening the door to some kind of dystopian concreting and defacing of Auckland suburbs.
There are some practical financial reasons to allow a little more density. It would be more efficient to have more people in these places to help pay the rates and also reduce the need for expensive additional infrastructure. With any luck more people in certain suburbs and on transport routes will make public transport more viable.
The main caveat is good design principles. Density has costs. Our urban form should be beautiful and we need access to public spaces, parks and fun. We can do this with good design.
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The economics is not the issue. Its politics.
In an abstract and rational world, these changes are a no brainer. Small and gradual changes in density over time will help Auckland house the population growth that will inevitably happen.
In the real world, things are messier. The politics is difficult. These changes will be decried and vehemently opposed by vested interests: current home owners who have gorged themselves on house price gains. Gains which have been large driven by overly restrictive planning restrictions.
They will also say that if there is to be density, they should not be in their neighbourhoods which are close to jobs and other amenities, but in faraway places that are out of sight and out of mind.
In politics home owners' views matter, because they vote. Even though around 57 per cent of Auckland adults rent, not enough of generation rent vote and they rarely make submissions on council matters. Their views are rarely represented; the same goes for future generations – yet they are the ones who will bear the cost of long term decisions we make now.
That's why these changes are so important, they are small changes in the right direction that will make things better for generation rent and future generations.
We will have more houses and choice of the types of homes for future generations to live in. House prices will be more affordable. In the 2016 local government elections generation rent needs to show their support for progressive thinking from Auckland Council that will fix our twin crises in housing and transport.
Shamubeel Eaqub is an independent economist and co-author of Generation Rent