Partnership: The key to using housing as a tool for inclusive growth

With Patrick McVeigh

From the front porch to the work water-cooler to the council chamber or committee room, the national housing situation is usually not too far away from the surface of our everyday discussions. Patrick McVeigh looks at some key success factors for tackling the problem.

Tiny houses are most definitely a thing now, here as overseas. The other day I discovered that the barista at my favourite coffee spot by our Auckland office had just built her own tiny home. Shortly after, one of my Wellington colleagues pointed me to a Dominion Post item about a garage sale showing the scale of the trend in the capital. It was the garage itself that was for sale, and this one, in the central suburb of Kelburn, went for ‘well in excess’ of its $50,000 RV. The listing said it needed a new roof and walls (but otherwise it was fine). The response had been ‘huge’, with around a dozen tender offers out of a much larger number of serious inquiries from other ‘tiny home enthusiasts’, who were looking at the potential to build on this 95m2 site.

Housing can play a central role in the efforts of place-based regeneration programmes to attack an array of challenges in local communities — from limited job and educational opportunities and poor health outcomes, to social isolation and patchy, fragmented local services. Image source: Pixabay

Given the scale and intensity of the housing crisis in Aotearoa, it’s no surprise that we’re reading and hearing quirky stories about millennials building 25m2 homes and other outside-the-square thinking — even advice on forgoing avocados. But for many New Zealanders the stories are more likely to be about quiet desperation, and insecurity about the future of their whānau. Many of us, homeowners and renters alike, wonder nowadays whether our children will ever be able to buy their own homes. Given the massive challenges the country faces in terms of the cost, availability and quality of its housing stock, particularly in our cities, it’s clear we need some urgent action.

Government, for its part, is taking these matters seriously, both locally and centrally. Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford recently announced a proposal to create a new Urban Development Authority for Auckland, with powers to override the city’s Unitary Plan. Meanwhile, Auckland Council highlighted in July that the city’s rolling 12-month total of consents had reached its highest level (12,274) since the previous construction peak in 2004, and that home building was consequently at a 14-year high.

Understanding the drivers of housing cost and availability

So progress is clearly being made. But as most politicians, developers and industry experts know, appropriate zoning and efficient consenting are only part of the challenge. There are other complex factors, many of them sitting beyond the powers of local councils and even central government.

Equally important for the speed and cost of construction for new housing are issues of building code compliance; workforce skills and labour supply; the cost and availability of inputs and materials, including energy; and the global financial markets. The interplay between all these factors is complicated and often intensely debated.

For example, looking at cause and effect in the context of Sydney’s housing market, Dr Tim Williams recently argued that it’s the financial markets — not supply — that make or break housing affordability. Williams says that ‘world property prices go up as access to mortgage finance and sources of liquidity increase and moderate as both decrease.’

Given the scale and intensity of the housing crisis in Aotearoa, it’s no surprise that we’re reading and hearing quirky stories about millennials building 25m2 homes and other outside-the-square thinking — even advice on forgoing avocados. Image source: Pexels

Connecting with place-based regeneration and wider economic development

But if we want to use housing as a tool for delivering more inclusive growth across New Zealand, there are some other dimensions and connections that need a lot of attention.

One of these is the central role that housing can play in the efforts of place-based regeneration programmes to attack an array of challenges in local communities — from limited job and educational opportunities and poor health outcomes, to social isolation and patchy, fragmented local services. An understanding of that connection is key to a number of place-based initiatives in Auckland, such as the Tāmaki Regeneration programme, which has put a systematic focus on community engagement and participation.

Another key connection is between housing and economic development. New housing development, and construction more generally, drives local economic outcomes, generates jobs, and fuels supply chains. Housing volumes, quality and affordability also play a key role in supporting functioning labour markets, and are essential to attracting and retaining talent, businesses and investment. Policy and planning are critical here — as UK think-tank the Centre for Cities has shown, the type and quality of housing ‘can enhance economic performance and place competitiveness, but it can also lead to segregation and spatial concentrations of poverty.’

The critical element is partnership

From place-based regeneration to wider economic development, the success stories seem to involve focus, active intervention and coordination, and — above all — partnership. Experience and evidence suggest that if we wish to use housing development as a tool for improving places and delivering inclusive growth, we need effective partnerships and collaboration between all the key players — central government agencies, local councils, tāngata whenua, local residents, community organisations, developers and investors, and local service providers and NGOs.

So what makes for successful partnerships when it comes to housing development? The critical factors, according to a major UK study from 2000, appear to be these:

  • Strong leadership, a shared, long-term practical vision, and a commitment to consensus-building
  • Active involvement from local businesses, employment agencies and the wider social sector
  • Investment in engaging with communities and building their capacity, to ensure they’re participating from the outset
  • An appropriate balance between top-down and bottom-up planning and intervention
  • A means for integrating housing, transport infrastructure and economic development in a way that’s spatially balanced, coherent and equitable.

Those success factors need to be built into the roll-out of our own KiwiBuild and, for example, the planning and implementation of Auckland’s proposed Urban Development Authority.

I’m picking my seven year old will still hate avocados when all grown up, and so won’t have to worry about making the avocados-vs-own-home choice. But I worry about my kids having to give up things a lot more basic than avocados in order to get into their own place. Image source: Pexels

A happier housing future

I’m picking my seven year old will still hate avocados when all grown up, and so won’t have to worry about making the avocados-vs-own-home choice. But like most other New Zealand parents I worry about my kids having to give up things a lot more basic than avocados in order to get into their own place.

A happier housing future for our next generation is going to depend on a relentless focus on collaboration and coordination as a way to involve many different participants in attacking the complex drivers of housing availability and affordability. That way, I can see our children having real housing options, whether as buyers or renters or tiny home builders, and wherever in Aotearoa they choose to settle.

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