Editorial: Messy housework

The Government, the Labour Party and the Greens are agreed that more needs to be done to provide affordable housing.

Prime Minister John Key demonstrated the importance he attaches to the issue when he sacked Housing Minister Phil Heatley and gave the job to Nick Smith. When the Green Party came up with plans to make housing more affordable, however, his impulse was to mock rather than to show why his government had the better programme.

National refined its policy with a raft of measures in October last year, when responding to a critical Productivity Commission report. At that time it acknowledged "our housing market is not as efficient as it could be". Housing costs were too high, and there wasn't enough land for residential purposes.

The new measures included a declaration of intent to work with local councils to increase the amount of land made available for residential purposes, and changes to the Resource Management Act to hasten the pace of residential developments. How much more should be done inevitably became the stuff of politicking.

Labour came up with a promise to enter the housing market to build 100,000 low-cost homes during the next 10 years. The Government dismissed this as expensive and unrealistic, but just more than 70 per cent of 500 respondents in a recent newspaper poll approved of the policy.

In recent days, the Greens announced a housing plan, including a rent-to-buy scheme. Co-leader Metiria Turei said it was affordable both for the Government and for middle and low-income families.

One News illustrated its report on the Green policies with the example of a woman who has been renting with her partner for four years. They want to start a family but can't afford to move into a house that's more than one bedroom.

But blogger Cathie Odgers ascertained that the woman had a masters degree in sociology and a student debt to pay off. Whether taxpayers should underwrite a home for her less than a year after her graduation is a reasonable question.

Mr Key ridiculed the Greens' proposals, saying they were "the next version of Monopoly. You know they want to print money, now they want to buy houses".

More constructively, he might have asked about the limits to the state's help in housing people.

The Marlborough Express