National housing shortage is not easy to solve - just ask Lower Hutt
Lower Hutt would make a great case study into how hard it is to deal with the national housing shortage.
On Tuesday, councillors agreed to consult on a proposal that could see infill, terraced and three-storey housing in some parts of the city. It would also allow for tiny houses and granny flats.
For a city that has always proudly called itself "The Garden City", and likes to boast of its large quarter-acre sections, the proposals represent a major change in direction.
The need to significantly increase the housing stock was first identified in 2013, when Hutt City Council adopted its urban growth strategy.
It set the modest target of increasing the population by 10,000, with 6000 new homes, by 2031.
Initially, much of the focus was on greenfield developments, particularly in Wainuiomata, where mayor Ray Wallace supported a proposal to build 2000 homes.
There was even talk of a $38 million road between Naenae and Wainuiomata, to help open up land in Upper Fitzherbert.
That idea was quickly abandoned in the face of a hostile reaction from rural landowners, many of whom would have become millionaires by a zoning change.
The council is now focusing on how to fit more houses into existing residential areas.
On Tuesday, councillors reluctantly agreed to ask residents for their views on housing intensification. The meeting attracted a large, mostly elderly, audience from the central city.
Before getting a chance to vote, councillors heard from central city residents, who argued that allowing three-storey housing in well-established streets would lead to a loss of sunlight and diminish property values.
There was talk of ghettos and slums, and that depriving people of sunlight was a human rights issue.
Des Darby said three-storey houses would "degrade" high-value houses, and make Lower Hutt just like Wellington.
Sue Lafrentz argued that 74 per cent of Hutt residents already lived on the valley floor, and the council should be trying to encourage growth on the Western Hills.
It fell to 30-year-old councillor Josh Briggs to put the other side of the argument. He spoke about being a member of the "rent generation" and the need to deal with Lower Hutt's rising homeless population.
Many of the homeless were working families, and the council had to look at all options, including tiny houses, to find a solution. It had a responsibility to think of future generations and how they could get on to the housing ladder, he said.
Councillor Chris Milne urged his colleagues to give young people a chance. "If we don't think ahead, then we plan to fail.
"For our younger people, we need to lower the drawbridge to opportunity. Locking up land and properties in the face of rising population and demand would be raising the drawbridge on opportunity."
He said New Zealand was a democracy and it "cannot deny large chunks of the population their reasonable expectation to get ahead in life without consequence".
"It's better to make small adjustments along the way than to suffer an earthquake where the status quo is dramatically overturned."
After the meeting, Wallace said there was no easy solution to the dilemma facing Lower Hutt. He could "fully understand" why some existing homeowners were unhappy, but said the council had to look to the future.
"For young people, that dream of owning your own home is getting further and further away. Unless we build new homes, that dream ... will never become a reality."
He suggested a question for existing homeowners to ask themselves: "How would they feel about their grandchildren not having the opportunity they have had to build their own home and create an asset?"
New Hutt South MP Chris Bishop welcomed the council's latest move and urged the community to engage in a serious conversation about how to build more houses.
Prices had rocketed in Lower Hutt because the market had not been able to meet the demand for new homes, he said. That had filtered down, forcing rents to rise, and was also a factor in the lack of social housing.
Residents have four months to have their say on the proposed changes. Submissions will be heard by an independent commissioner before councillors get the final vote.