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(Photo: Getty Images).
(Photo: Getty Images).

In My BackyardNovember 17, 2019

Beyond the Unitary Plan: a short list of solutions to Auckland’s housing crisis

(Photo: Getty Images).
(Photo: Getty Images).

In the second part of a new event series looking at the future of Auckland, The Spinoff and Auckland Council host In My Backyard: Glen Innes, to ask what the suburb can teach the rest of the city about housing. Hayden Donnell looks for inspiration and innovation on how to house the city’s future.

Auckland Council’s Unitary Plan has enabled a building boom. More than 14,600 building consents were issued in the city in the year to September. Despite that, houses remain extremely expensive and out-of-reach for many first home buyers. Here are eight ideas about what to do about it. 

Make better use of public land 

Tāmaki, which includes Glen Innes, Point England, and Panmure, is the site of New Zealand’s largest urban regeneration. Over the next 20 years, 2,800 aging state homes will be replaced with 10,500 new houses. Of the new dwellings, 3,500 will be state houses, 3,500 will be affordable houses, and 3,500 will be on the open market. Every new house built will take pressure off Auckland’s property market, increasing supply to keep pace with the city’s growth.

These sorts of community-defining developments are only really possible on large tracts of publicly owned land. Auckland Council’s Unitary Plan may give developers more freedom to build densely, but it can’t compel them to do so, or govern when construction will take place. 

Fiona Docherty Wright, council’s head of infrastructure and development strategy, says large landholdings like Tāmaki are important because they give public organisations control to plan dense, suburb-spanning developments, while also focusing on achieving broader social goals like decreasing poverty and providing jobs. “If it wasn’t for places like Tāmaki, we would just have to deal with the individual landowners who own one house, or a few houses here and there. It would happen very much piecemeal. We wouldn’t get any community outcomes,” she says. “The more fractured ownership there is, the more challenging it is to get anything done.”

Tāmaki isn’t a one-off. Other large-scale developments are happening on council and government-owned land across Auckland, including in Northcote, Mangere, and Mt Roskill

Come and join The Spinoff for a lively discussion on what Glen Innes can teach Auckland about housing, featuring Tara Moala, Tamati Patuwai, Emma McInnes, Anna Jennings, and Shelley Katae. 

November 19, 6-8pm, Te Oro, 98 Line Road, Glen Innes. Please RSVP to 

New homes in Glen Innes (Image: Hannah Peters/Getty Images).

Encourage different ways of living

When Ockham Residential’s Daisy opened, Mike Hosking called it a “crime that’s being committed”. He was mad that the 33-apartment building had only two carparks. Auckland mayor Phil Goff says Hosking was wrong: Daisy is a vision of the future Auckland. Developers building central city apartments shouldn’t be forced to burden potential buyers with the cost of parking, he says. “You need that flexibility around planning so you’re not imposing standards that are rigid and inflexible and don’t take into account what people’s actual needs are.” 

Daisy is just one of many ‘alternative’ developments going up in Auckland. Co-living arrangements like in Grey Lynn’s Cohaus are increasingly popular. A huge proportion of the 14,634 consents that Auckland Council issued in the year to September were for terraced housing, apartments, or other higher-density developments. “The old days of people spending their weekends cutting the lawns and tending the vege gardens have changed,” Goff says.

Build within existing urban boundaries 

This may seem obvious, but the idea that Auckland should prioritise growth within its existing city limits is still the subject of fierce debate in both local and central politics. Act leader David Seymour has argued greenfields development is the solution to Auckland’s housing crisis. He wants the Rural-Urban Boundary removed to make room for development in areas like Clevedon, Karaka and the foothills of the Waitakere Ranges. Former mayoral candidate John Palino made building a satellite city south of Manukau a central plank of his 2016 campaign. Rodney councillor Greg Sayers has written a book criticising council for its “anti-sprawl” agenda.

The main challenge with greenfields development is that the infrastructure serving it has to be built from scratch. That means expensive new roads, wastewater pipelines, community facilities, and power lines. “It’s better value for us to upgrade our existing aging networks and to add to them than to create a whole new network on a greenfield site,” says Docherty Wright.

Auckland is already one of the lowest density major cities in the developed world. We’ve built out and out for decades, filling suburb after suburb with oversized, single-house sections. The city we have today, with its clogged roads and overpriced homes, is built on urban sprawl. Why would we want more of the same?

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff. Photo: Getty Images

Build infrastructure quickly, and in the right places

Even inside our city limits, getting houses built is only half the battle. Auckland mayor Phil Goff says council’s challenge is ensuring high-density development is enabled by infrastructure upgrades. “If you’ve got the zoning but you don’t have the infrastructure, then the land is not available. Doing both those things means you take some of the heat out of a housing market.”

It’s Docherty Wright’s job to make sure that infrastructure is delivered on-time in the right places. 

But even if she does her job perfectly, there’s only so much council can do. It has to operate within the bounds of its budget restrictions. That’s why both her and Goff say it’s important to…

Find new infrastructure funding sources 

Auckland Council’s debt-to-revenue restrictions put a choke on how quickly it can build infrastructure. Alternative funding models could enable infrastructure to be built without burdening council’s books. Goff points to a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle’, which will fund $91 million worth of infrastructure for a 9,000-house development in the Wainui area, north of Auckland. Property owners in the Milldale development will make an infrastructure payment to enable building to be completed much quicker than would otherwise be the case, he says. “The price of the property is cheaper than what you would’ve had to pay if you’d had to wait longer for it.”

Promote new building technology

Fletcher Building recently opened a factory out at Wiri that can churn out two homes in a day. Goff says the prefabricated house-building factory is part of the solution to the housing crisis. “One, it increases the pace of housing building. Two, it increases the quality because you’ve got better quality control standards. Three, it ultimately does help bring down housing costs.”

Change the Building Act and the Building Code

Goff has also been calling for radical reform to the Building Act and Building Code to ensure houses are well-built, and the costs of any construction failures don’t fall to ratepayers. He points to the leaky building crisis, where Auckland Council had to pay out $600 million to cover homeowners. An insurance and warranty scheme would incentivise developers to build high-quality homes, and shield ratepayers from financial risk, Goff says. “Poor control is what led to weathertightness and the disaster that was for thousands of families and for ratepayers,” he says. “An insurance and warranty scheme directly incentivises companies to do the job properly and [then] the ratepayer is not the last person left standing because the designer and the developer has long since liquidated and are not there to payout.”

Goff also wants the Crown to  set up a centralised register to show building products are fit for purpose. “At the moment, 69 different council authorities acting as consent authorities all duplicate each other’s work and certify the same products time and again. Duplication just adds to cost and inconsistency and we’re saying do it once, do it centrally. Do it with the expertise that you need to certify the product and don’t keep re-inventing the wheel.”

Invest in the regions

Urbanisation is one of the key drivers behind Auckland’s housing crisis. Small towns across New Zealand are hollowing out as people – particularly young people – head to the cities in search of jobs and other opportunities. This is a global trend, and arguably intractable, but that hasn’t stopped efforts to slow it down. Docherty Wright points to Australia where the government is using immigration policy to direct people to flagging regional centres. Economist Shamubeel Eaqub, who wrote on New Zealand’s increasing urbanisation in his 2014 book Growing Apart, recently argued for increased government investment in regional infrastructure in an interview with Radio NZ. Lastly, there’s the $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund, which is providing jobs in struggling areas like the Far North. Could Shane Jones actually be a solution to our problems?

This content was created in paid partnership with Auckland Council. Learn more about our partnerships here.

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