Woods sticks to her script (a list of what the government has done) after economist rails about housing

As Minister of Housing, she is acutely aware of how decades of under-investment in infrastructure and the building of affordable homes has led us to where we are today, Megan Woods said yesterday.

Great.  But what is being done about it?

Plenty – but nothing that hasn’t been announced already, it seems.

At least, not according to the speech which Woods delivered to the InfrastructureNZ conference.

Woods ticked off a list of programmes already under way and legislation already passed, and she reiterated the Government’s intention to replace the Resource Management Act.  But an audience of infrastructure buffs hoping to be the first to hear of new initiatives would have been disappointed.

Woods’ speech was among the new posts on the Beehive website, since we last checked.

Among the others:

  • A statement from Pike River Re-entry Minister Andrew Little which said a commemorative service at Parliament 10 years after the Pike River Mine tragedy has honoured the victims “and their legacy of ensuring all New Zealand workplaces are safe”.
  • The PM’s speech at the commemorative service
  • An announcement from Education Minister Chris Hipkins of the Government’s latest investment of $164 million to build new classrooms and upgrade schools around the country.
  • New testing measures are being put in place to increase the safety of border workers and further strengthen New Zealand’s barriers against COVID-19.

At the InfrastructureNZ conference, Woods regaled her audience with a rundown on what is being done to deal with the housing issue. The several measures she mentioned included:

  • A commitment to repeal and reform the Resource Management Act to reduce the timeframes and expense of the consenting process and enable more housing developments to get going.
  • Ensuring enough people are trained to build homes.
  • The $350m Residential Development Response Fund, which gives developers options to finance developments if and when needed.
  • The groundwork has been laid for a substantial change in the financing and planning of infrastructure.
  • More public housing is being built  – 5,670 new public housing places, 4,342 new builds – and the government is “on track to deliver over 18,000 public housing and transitional places by 2024.
  • The government is working with the building industry on the Construction Sector Accord, to increase productivity and capability, improve resilience and restore confidence.

“We have a lot of good work to build on, but there is more to do,” Woods said.

Great, we thought. Here comes an announcement of some new initiatives.

Not really.

The best we got was:

“We will be releasing an updated Public Housing Plan in the coming months. This will provide not only more much needed public housing but the certainty of a secure pipeline of work.

“Directing Kāinga Ora and Community Housing Providers to build in specific locations will better support those in urgent need of housing.

“The Government will continue working with Community Housing Providers who can add value by building new properties, deliver social services or operate in areas where the Government is not.

“We will investigate ways to address high building and construction costs with the proposed Commerce Commission market study into building supplies late next year, and working with MBIE to explore further ways to reduce building and construction costs

“We will also address remaining legislative barriers that add unnecessary costs, risks and delays to development, with a particular focus on land use constraints, such as restrictive covenants.

“I also want to look at ways we can innovatively use the accommodation supplement to drive investment.”

Woods described the housing shortage as a critical issue for New Zealand and said it remains a key priority for this Government to fix.

“We are committed to using all available levers to get more housing built and I look forward to working with the infrastructure and construction sectors to make that happen.”

In his report for Politik on the conference, political writer Richard Harman noted that Woods sat backstage while economist Shamubeel Equub delivered “a damning indictment of her government’s housing policies”.

When it was her turn to speak, Harman wrote, she largely ignored the charges levelled by Equub and (as we report above) instead offered a list of what she said were Government moves to deal with the housing crisis.

“After her speech, had she stayed at the conference another half hour, she would have heard a panel carry on where Equub had left off.”

Equub applauded the increase in public housing construction, but said the waiting list was still 20,000 people and the country would have to build at the current rate for the next 30 years to remedy the deficit.

“But right now, what we see in the market, of course, is that the demand for housing is not physical demand, it’s investor demand.

“We are buying and selling houses from each other.

“What we have is a central bank and banking policy that allows our banking system to essentially lend only to housing,” he said.

“In the last six months, lending to businesses and agriculture has crashed.

“So the bits of the economy that actually create jobs and incomes and lifestyles, there was no investment.

“And at the same time, lending to mortgages has barely changed.”

Having criticised the government and the Reserve Bank, Equub acknowledged the problem was too big for the government to solve on its own. It needed to partner with other organisations like community housing providers.

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