Editorial: Home steep home . . .

Last updated 05:00 20/03/2014

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OPINION: Editorial: Many New Zealanders who aspire to own their own homes have scant prospect of doing so.

The national median house price rose 8.6 per cent during the past 12 months, interest rates are up, tougher lending rules are in place and house sale volumes have plunged at the entry-level end of the market.

Otherwise fine. Otherwise just dandy.

Whatever you may make of the various political strategies to address the problems of entering the housing market - or the contention that it's potentially a better idea to forget about it - the fact remains that it's still part of the cultural characteristic of this country that a great many people ache to have their own home.

In Southland, at any rate, the dream has long been less of a mirage than for our friends further north.

At times this has been the province that boasts the most affordable housing. The most recent figures put us third behind the Tasman region and Marlborough but it's still, in many respects, an enviable situation.

The reasons for this are not all cause for celebration. If there were more southerners - and that would be good - the demand would be higher.

And the comparative modesty of house prices also reflects a standard of housing stock that is problematic at the lower end.

Though this is an issue, it's not one that many Aucklanders would rush to console us about. Up there a chance to acquire something of a do-er-upper at anything like the cost in Southland would be a fine thing.

Shoring up the standard of housing must remain high not only on household agendas, but community ones. In this context the Southland Warm Homes Trust, with its subsidy support, offers potential assistance for a great many homeowners.

But that scheme does focus more on people on lower incomes, or with health issues, or both. It does not cater for everybody.

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority is pitching a scheme under which people would be able to insulate their homes by the council meeting the cost initially and have the repayments spread through their individual rates bills.

It's a scheme that aims to be cost neutral for the participating council, as it takes into account interest rates and administration charges.

There's been some uptake from at least a dozen councils including Auckland, Dunedin and New Plymouth.

The initial response from the Invercargill City Council was measured, with immediate concern about the potential exposure from people defaulting on their rates. And it must be said the wider community reaction has been muted, to put it charitably. So what, if anything, becomes of that scheme locally remains to be seen.

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Nationwide, the Government seeks to chase down difficulties in identified problem areas like Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty, through its newish Housing Accords system. Southland isn't particularly on the radar there, nor is it likely to come in for particular attention any time soon.

So we need to be alert to the whether we are making the most practical use of existing schemes and local solutions.

 

- The Southland Times

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