Government to devote 430 hectares to help solve Auckland housing crisis

Housing Minister Nick Smith said he instructed Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to push ahead with a ...
Bruce Mercer

Housing Minister Nick Smith said he instructed Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to push ahead with a housing policy ahead of it being announced in the Budget.

Details of a housing plan to help solve Auckland's surging property prices were revealed on a Ministry website ahead of the Budget, but there are no red faces about it says the Housing Minister.

Officials have been examining what the Crown owns, which is now surplus to needs, as the Government looks to use 430 hectares of reserves, defence land and property once earmarked for schools and hospitals to develop housing to be sold.

Labour has dismissed the plan as dusting off old policy seven years too late.

Although the process was planned to be announced as part of Thursday's Budget, details of the plans to bring in private sector companies were added to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website on Tuesday.

But Housing Minister Nick Smith said he instructed the Ministry to push ahead with inviting interested parties to a function next week.

"I'm not at all concerned about it - in fact I was in Christchurch some weeks ago and spoke to media and indicated the Government was proceeding with a similar programme in Auckland," he told Radio NZ.

He said it was only the amount set aside in the Budget for the housing initiative that was being kept under wraps.

SO WHAT LAND WILL BE DEVELOPED? 

An initial invitation to take part in a tender to develop housing on Crown land in Auckland says that the ministry will conduct "an open contestable process to identify a shortlist of suitably qualified parties or consortia with the capability and capacity to deliver housing developments at pace in Auckland".

Land being considered for development and sale includes farmland, that held by tertiary institutions, health boards, the defence force, holdings of Housing New Zealand and even land designated as reserves owned by the Department of Conservation.

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Smith wouldn't confirm how many houses would be built on the 430 hectares of land being put aside for the development other than to say it would certainly be in the thousands.

"It's a very large mix and there's a significant amount of it," Smith said. While there some "very precious nature reserves" which would never be considered for sale, many others were effectively vacant.

"You'd be quite astounded by some areas of reserves - and when you say the word reserve you assume that's a park and somebody using it - of land that's effectively vacant and being under utilised," he said. Some land zoned as reserves was currently being used as a construction yard, he said.

"What I've been surprised by is how poorly government agencies generally manage their land holdings, that you can have quite significant blocks of land sitting around unused  for large periods and so I'm having a close and hard look at where there are land holdings, held by government agencies that will help deal with the challenges over housing that we have in Auckland."

Land which the Government was developing in Weymouth had been held for the Ministry of Education and then the Ministry of Social Development for more than 20 years "during which period there was high housing need in South Auckland. Frankly, government agencies should have gone into action a lot earlier in utilising that land".

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There would be some issues to overcome with local iwi due to the restraints on some of the land around first right of refusal, Smith told Radio NZ.

It was an issue that would need to be worked through in the same way that the Government would be looking at land set aside for schools that hadn't seen any development in 20 years.

"The key issue for Government is where there is no obvious use in the next 10 to 15 years, could it be used for housing."

Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford said National's plans were simply a dusting "off Labour's 2008 inventory of government land available for housing" and re-announced it.

"Despite National ridiculing this at the time, it is a no-brainer to develop vacant government land in Auckland," Twyford said

"The Government should have continued Labour's work in this area seven years ago. If it had, we would have had thousands of new homes and the housing crisis might not be as bad.

Twyford said given the lack of action over seven years, the addition of 430 hectares of Crown land is unlikely to have much effect on house prices.

"A shortfall of 20,000 homes has built up under this Government. Auckland needs 13,000 a year just to keep up with population growth and consent figures show a build rate of less than 8000 a year," Twyford said.

"The shortage is getting worse by the day, which is why house prices went up more than $100,000 in the past year."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the Government must guarantee 100 per cent of the homes built on the 430 hectares would be dedicated affordable housing - the housing crisis wouldn't be fixed by building houses that Aucklanders couldn't afford to buy.  

"They must not sell it off to private developers for private purposes - it is public land, it should be used for affordable housing for New Zealanders who are struggling.

"What constitutes affordable, of course, depends - the Government seems to think that New Zealand families can afford a house of over half a million dollars - that's just simply not true."

The Government needed to invest in building affordable homes that were about three or four times the average wage, Turei said.  

"Part of the problem in Auckland now is that property developers have no incentive to build houses to be sold at anything other than market rates – that's why the Government needs to step in and make it a condition of the land development that they're not."

The Government had had the land the whole time it had been in power, and had been berating Auckland Council about releasing land for housing while "sitting on a gold mine which they could have been using for years now to build housing."

"So it's disgraceful that they've come to this so late, but the fact is, they have land, it's public land, they need to engage in building homes that are affordable and available to low-income New Zealanders."

The Budget was the Government's chance to "finally do something meaningful on housing," Turei said.

 - Stuff

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