Housing policy 'questionable'

CHARLES ANDERSON
Last updated 08:46 04/11/2013

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Labour leader David Cunliffe has defended his party's plan to take on Canterbury's housing crisis, which industry experts say leaves more questions than answers.

David Cunliffe announced yesterday that the party would build 10,000 homes in Canterbury over four years as part of its KiwiBuild policy, which aims to build 100,000 affordable homes over 10 years.

"The time has come for the Government to stop denying there is a housing crisis in Canterbury," Cunliffe said. "Labour is prepared to take action."

Yesterday, Cunliffe cited Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment figures that estimated up to 7400 people were living in insecure housing.

He said the party would also investigate the use of appropriate red-zone land and properties as a stop-gap measure for temporary accommodation.

This morning, Cunliffe defended the policy, saying many red-zoned houses were safe.

"It is senseless to demolish houses when there is a pressing need for rental accommodation."

He said at the margin there were "plenty of red-zone properties that are safe enough to live in that can provide temporary relief".

"We've had an independent engineering report done, which shows, and it's not that surprising, the red zone boundaries are done along street lines," he told Breakfast.

"They don't always bear an exact relationship to the underlying geologies. Certainly around the margins of the red zones there are plenty of houses that are very little damaged, or not damaged at all and are safe to live in on a temporary basis."

Tenants Protection Association spokeswoman Helen Gatonyi said while the plan sounded ambitious she was sceptical that it would serve those who really needed it.

"Affordable for whom? The cost of building even affordable homes means they are probably not going to be accessible for those at the bottom of the heap."

She said the task was so large that it required unconventional cross-party alliances to make it happen. Even reusing safe red-zoned homes came at a cost.

"What about the community infrastructure required to make people feel safe," she said.

Christchurch economist Robin Clements said whether the party could deliver on its plans at a suitable cost was a big question.

"If they can't then who covers the shortfall? Presumably the taxpayer. Is that a good thing? Probably not . . . there are more questions than answers."

Cunliffe said there "was no costless option".

It costs to put people in state houses, it costs to offer people other newly built temporary accommodation, so there's no costless option here, and in fact, going into something which is already bricks and mortar there, many of them not damaged at all - the costs are relatively modest.

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He said the human costs needed to be measured against the financial costs.

KiwiBuild will use the Crown's low cost of borrowing and the economies of scale from building in bulk to bring down the cost of building these houses. The houses would be sold as they are built so there would be no cost to the Crown. There would be a one-off, $1.5 billion investment to kick-start the project.

KiwiBuild would be overseen by Housing New Zealand Corporation but the construction would be carried out by private sector firms, with some social housing agencies also participating.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said Cunliffe was "late coming to the party".

The Government was already well on the way to developing more housing in Christchurch at a scale and time line that equalled Labour's plan, he said.

The Land Use Recovery Plan would free up 40,000 greenfield sites over the coming few years with a further 20,000 brownfield sites. In the past 12 months there had been 5000 residential consents and Brownlee forecast a further 8500 over the coming year.

- Fairfax Media

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