Flaws in land management report need to be rectified quickly

A report on management of New Zealand land was released by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand, with admissions it lacked data and the data used was six years old. It is important to have a good plan for land use and environmental protection.

ODT editorial: Insights into the environment

The “Our land 2018” report, released by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand this week, confirms the need for more action to improve land management.

Environment Minister David Parker says he is particularly troubled by how much  urban growth is occurring in irreplaceable highly productive land. Even in a country as lucky as New Zealand there are only limited qualities of these high-class soils.

The report identifies New Zealand is losing some of its most productive land to houses. Agriculture is under pressure from the loss of highly productive and versatile land due to urbanisation.

There has been a 7% reduction in land used for agriculture, meaning land and soil is lost to urban subdivisions, forestry and lifestyle blocks. Mr Parker is taking steps to address issues such as the loss of prime market gardening land around Pukekohe, as Auckland expands, as well as the impact of lifestyle blocks on the most productive land.

He recognises the need to ensure there is enough land to build the houses people need while noting the need for protecting the most productive areas of the country.

It was natural for towns and cities to be established and grow near productive land, but as the population grows it puts pressure on the best land. This is a major issue in Auckland, and it has been a problem in Dunedin where marginal land on the fringes of the city has been zoned against housing but productive flat land on the Taieri plain has been increasingly subdivided.

Federated Farmers is disappointed with much of the report, saying the data is six years out of date. The report lacks significant data and admits this multiple times. One of the factors highlighted by scientists is the shocking lack of rural waste data. Better records and tracking of waste disposal is a key to understanding the risks waterways, soil, air and towns face — especially in an expanding industry known for generating important volumes of non-natural waste.

Parker needs to ensure that more research is done and more data is collated.

The report finds New Zealand loses about 192 million tonnes of soil each year to erosion, of which 84 million is from pasture land. The high volume of soil being swept into the waterways is choking aquatic life.

The Government, farmers and others with an interest in land have a role to play in better managing erosion-prone land. Much of the response to the report comes from environmental agencies firmly opposed to farming. However, farmers are not the only ones with a stake in the environment.

If, as predicted, we get more and heavier rain events erosion will be an ongoing challenge. There are many hilly areas prone to erosion. A lot of land has been cleared of erosion protective forest.

The report also confirms the continued loss of New Zealand’s limited wetlands which contain some of the most precious biodiversity and filter contaminants from the land. More must be done to protect these.

A lot of wetlands have been drained and converted into pasture – and housing, like the flood prone South Dunedin flat – since European immigration began.

Mr Parker has taken note of the report, and its shortcomings. He understands the need to have balance in the environment and has asked officials to start work on a National Policy Statement for versatile land and high-class soils. His contribution is important.

The effort of the Government in publishing this report, and the strong self-criticism implied in its findings, should be applauded. Further reports of this character will be needed to get better insights into how New Zealand manages its land and resources.

It is a bit alarming that the report has such poor data to work with. That’s the fault of past governments. Parker now has the opportunity to put this right – but with the rush to built a lot more houses he may have to act quickly.

Q&A: Twyford and housing

Labour campaigned strongly agaisnt the national government over it’s poor handling of growing housing problems. They have promised big (100,00o new houses in 10 years), but are yet to look like delivering.

Today on Q&A: Can Labour fix our housing problems?

Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford is Corin’s lead interview. He has ambitious plans to make housing affordable again – can he deliver?

Twyford was mostly vague about progress, saying the government is working on things and yet to decide on many aspects of the house building project.

He couldn’t give specifics on how windfall profits of those who draw new houses from the ballot will be treated – potentially those who win the housing lottery could gain hundreds of thousands of equity. Twyford said that eventually the increased housing supply would rectify it. There is no guarantee of that, far from it.

Twyford said there will be no means testing – I think that referred to people who are well off (high earners or with family financial support) will not be excluded from entering the ballots.

They must means test any house purchaser in respect of being able to afford to service their mortgage.

It will take a year or two to see whether sufficient progress is being made.

Poll: most important problems facing New Zealand

A Roy Morgan poll on most important general issues facing New Zealand compared to the world shows that economic issues, inequality and housing are of most concern.

Most Important Problems Facing New Zealand and the World - February 2018

And the most important specific New Zealand issues compared to the world.

It’s not surprising to see economic issues so high, including inequality, and in New Zealand housing is also of major concern.

Interesting to see that New Zealand is significantly less concerned about environmental issues.

Perhaps this is why the Greens are so keen on advocating on social issues.

Source: Economic Issues dominate New Zealand concerns early in 2018


Homelessness “is much worse than previously thought”

NZH seems to have got a report that is to be released this morning in advance – Homeless crisis: 80% to 90% of homeless people turned away from emergency housing

New Zealand’s homelessness crisis is much worse than previously thought, as a new report identifies a hidden homeless population that is not officially monitored by government agencies.

More than 80 per cent of all homeless people turning up to community emergency housing providers in the last year were turned away because the system is bursting at the seams, according to an independent housing stocktake to be released today.

And the number of recorded homeless people without a safe and secure place to live is expected to rise significantly, as more struggling people are told that help is available and come out of the shadows.

The report, authored by economist Shamubeel Eaqub​, University of Otago Professor of Public Health Philippa Howden-Chapman and the Salvation Army’s Alan Johnson, will be released this morning by Housing Minister Phil Twyford.

The report is understood to bring together figures across a number of areas including homelessness, the rental market, housing affordability – including the rising costs relative to wage increases – and housing supply nationwide, with a specific focus on Auckland.

One of the report’s main focuses will be to highlight a hidden homeless population that is not officially monitored or recorded.

However, community emergency housing providers report they are at full capacity, and their data from last year indicate that for every 10 homeless people that approach them, eight to nine are turned away.​

The report will refer to a burgeoning “floating population” – people without safe and secure housing, including in temporary housing, sharing with another household, or living in uninhabitable places.

The report is understood to say that greater awareness of the issue, along with more information campaigns about where to get help, is expected to lead to reported homelessness getting worse.

The report is intended as analysis of the housing issue, and is not expected to make any recommendations for action.

Odd that the Herald keeps referring to “The report is understood to…” when they obviously either have a copy of the report (have they broken an embargo?) or have been provided with details.

The Government describes it as an independent stocktake of the housing crisis to help focus its work. But National’s housing spokesman Michael Woodhouse has call it a “smoke and mirrors” exercise to find the numbers to fit the Government’s narrative, when the housing market is “flat to falling”.

Politics aside, there is obviously a problem with homelessness and difficulties in finding suitable housing for many people.

Context box: Homelessness crisis

  • 8 to 9 out of every 10 homeless people turned away from emergency housing providers
  • Hidden homeless population with no official monitoring or recording
  • 1 in 100 live in severe housing deprivation in 2013 census, up from 1 in 120 in 2006 and 1 in 130 in 2001
  • Auckland Council says 23,409 in severe housing deprivation last year, up 3000 from the 2013 census
  • 7725 on state house waiting list, up 5 per cent from Sept quarter
  • MBIE figures show a nationwide shortfall of 71,000 houses; 45,000 in Auckland

Regardless of a report trying to detail and quantify the extent of the problems, the key is what the current Government can do to alleviate both homelessness and the wider housing shortage.

Housing Minister Twyford proposes all but rent controls

Housing Minister Phil Twyford thinks that the only way to keep rental rates in check is to significantly increase the supply of housing. That makes sense. But he still intends to introduce rental ‘reforms’ – that is, impose restrictions on rent increases and the costs of letting.

There are already signs that some landlords are quitting the business, or seriously considering it. Putting more pressure on them may make rental supply tighter rather than better.

Stuff: How Phil Twyford plans to address the renting crisis

New Housing Minister Phil Twyford has several plans to make life easier for renters, but has ruled out rent controls.

Instead the new minister is clear that in his view the only way to seriously keep rents in check is to greatly increase supply.

But that doesn’t mean he wants the Government to stay out of the equation: he thinks it has a serious role to play in both increasing supply and softening the rough edges of the private market.

By the end of this year, Twyford wants to introduce legislation to reform the Residential Tenancies Act, our main tenancy law.

The key parts of these proposed reforms will be:

  • an end to letting fees that are charged to tenants,
  • a requirement that rents can be raised only once a year instead of every six months,
  • an end to no-reason terminations,
  • the required inclusion of a formula for how those rent rises will be calculated on every tenancy agreement.

That sounds like coming very close to rent controls.

National’s Housing Spokesman Michael Woodhouse new rules on landlords could easily see them exit the market and reduce the supply just when it is needed most.

“Certainly the best thing not to do is to make it harder for landlords to offer their properties,” Woodhouse said.

“We wouldn’t be following these punitive policies for landlords that they have introduced or said that they would introduce, that are making people like Andrew King from the Property Investors Federation say it’s just getting too hard for the overwhelming majority of landlords who only own one or two properties with things like capital gains tax and ring fencing, or the unknown costs from the Healthy Homes Guarantee bill.

“These are not all sophisticated profit-driven landlords – these are nurses and doctors and teachers.

But Twyford doesn’t believe many landlords will be literally leaving their homes empty, meaning the sum total of housing available shouldn’t significantly change.

The biggest potential problem isn’t landlords leaving their properties empty (they wouldn’t be landlords then, they would be bach or crib owners).

In the short term another Government MP  is also keen to help.

Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson is advising any tenants who believe their rent has risen well above the market rent in their area to consider taking their landlord to the Tenancy Tribunal.

The real risk is precipitating an exodus of landlords from the housing market altogether. In particular, as more baby boomer landlords reach or near retirement they may decide there is something simpler and safer to do with their retirement investments.

Rental housing market risk

Many people rely on rental accommodation, through choice or financial necessity (they can’t afford to but their own house). People who buy houses and rent them out provide a vital service. The Government cannot provide homes for everyone.

The rental market and landlords have received a lot of attention from politicians over the last few years as housing prices escalated again after recovery from the Global Financial Crisis – property values had already doubled when the Clark government was in power.

A lot of that attention has been negative, in part for political and campaign purposes.

The Government is set to make changes that will significantly affect housing investments. This poses a risk to the whole housing market if it deters too many people from staying in or getting into property investment.

RNZ:  Landlords bail on rental market: ‘It is just not worth it’

Many private landlords are bailing out of the rental market because they are worried about the new government’s housing policies, say property experts.

If too many landlords sell up, and not enough new investors step in, housing values are at risk of dropping, and there could be a shortage of rental housing.

The experts say landlords are being tempted to take their capital gain and run, before harsh new rules undermine the value of their investments.

The concerns have arisen as the government moves to implement dramatic reforms of the housing market.

The looming changes include:

* A capital gains tax on second homes, depending on the outcome of a special tax inquiry.

* The imposition of ‘ring-fencing rules’, which would reduce tax deductibility for rental houses, by ensuring losses cannot be set off against other income.

* An extension of the ‘bright line test’, under which anyone selling a rental home within five years would be deemed a trader and would therefore be taxed.

Property Investors Federation executive officer Andrew King said these planned changes were scaring off investors from the property market.

He said the personal hostility directed against landlords was another issue.

“There’s been a lot of animosity against rental property owners. There is a lot of misinformation about their tax situation, a lot of people think it is easy money when it is not.

“There are also changes to the how the property can be managed, and there are a lot of increased costs.

“A lot of people are thinking it is just not worth it and are looking at getting out.”

If too many do get out of property investment it will create different problems for the Government – and potentially for for people who have purchased high valued property with large mortgages.

The government has dismissed criticism of its policies as anecdotal.

It said its housing policies were aimed at overcoming accommodation shortages.

Landlords are an essential part of providing accommodation – and that’s not anecdotal.

Prime Minister refuses to reaffirm Kiwibuild numbers

In the first Question Time under the new Government Bill English pressed acting Prime Minister Kelvin Davis on Labour’s commitment to build 100,000 houses in 10 years. Davis refused to reaffirm this repeatedly.

(Davis is Acting Prime  Minister while Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters are at APEC in Vietnam.)

GovernmentMeasurable Targets

1. Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: What will the specific measurable targets be, if any, that she will use to hold her Government to account?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Acting Prime Minister): As Prime Minister, I will hold my Ministers to account for improving the well-being and living standards of New Zealanders.

Rt Hon Bill English: What is the appropriate measure we should follow to monitor progress on KiwiBuild where the Government has committed to build 100,000 houses over the next 10 years?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: We will make decisions on appropriate targets in due course.

Rt Hon Bill English: So does that mean that the current expression of the Government’s commitment, which is “to build 100,000 houses over the next 10 years” does not necessarily mean what most people would take it to mean?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: We will make and confirm decisions on appropriate targets in due course.

Rt Hon Bill English: Does the Prime Minister stand by her Government’s commitment to “build 100,000 houses over the next 10 years”?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: We will make and confirm decisions on appropriate targets in due course.

Rt Hon Bill English: Why did the Government commit to “build 100,000 houses over the next 10 years” if it is now not willing to re-express that commitment in this House?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Because the previous Government didn’t build houses.

Rt Hon Bill English: Is it possible that the Government is revising this commitment because of public statements made by the Minister of Housing and Urban Development, that the commitment may involve not building houses but buying existing houses?


Rt Hon Bill English: What other reason could there possibly be for not being willing to restate a commitment made by all its members right though the election campaign to “build 100,000 houses”? What other reason could there be not to make that commitment here today?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: We are not revising targets. We will make and confirm decisions on appropriate targets in due course.

Rt Hon Bill English: So is the commitment to build 100,000 houses an appropriate target, or one that is subject to revision or further decisions, or is it one that we should take at its word?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: The member will find out in due course.

Rt Hon Bill English: My question to the Prime Minister is this, then: are there other commitments that were made during the election campaign and in the Speech from the Throne that are now open to revision and later decisions?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: We are committed to implementing what the Governor-General has said in the Speech from the Throne.

Hon Amy Adams: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to clarify: it’s been the practice in the House for some time that a member answering on behalf of another member should clearly identify that. I didn’t want to interrupt the question, but can you clarify whether that is still the case?

Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister answered the question.

Davis may have been playing safe, but this was an odd opening performance.

From the Speech from the Throne:

Housing is a top priority for this government. Action will be taken to address homelessness. State house sell offs will stop. And the State will take the lead in building affordable houses.  Through its Kiwibuild programme, this government pledges to build 100,000 high quality, affordable homes over the next 10 years; half of them in Auckland.

Davis said they were committed to implementing that but wouldn’t make a direct commitment.

In the next question Housing Minister Phil Twyford was prepared to make a commitment.

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Housing and Urban Development have reiterated our policy, which is to build 100,000 affordable homes to restore affordable homeownership to this country.

So it is odd that Davis wasn’t prepared to make this same commitment directly.  He seemed to be avoiding saying anything.

However the Opposition has emphasised the Government’s housing commitment to build 100,000 ‘affordable’ homes in ten years.

Of course amongst other things this may depend on whether Labour stays in government for long enough to ensure they fulfil the commitment.

Source: https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/hansard-debates/rhr/combined/HansDeb_20171109_20171109_12

Historic housing conditions

Pushing for better housing conditions is a worthy goal for the Government, substandard housing can have a detrimental effect on the health and well being of tenants in particular. But, while there is good cause for concern now, conditions have been much worse in the past.

Dunedin City Council have posted online an interesting collection of archive photos. Some of them show what housing conditions were like for some people in the past.


Flood damaged houses, Dunedin 1923


Flood damaged houses on banks of the Leith River, 1923


Houses identified as substandard, 1957


Maori Road, Dunedin 1959

Going further back in history, Maori Road is so named because it was built by Maori prisoners of war, including some political prisoners from Parihaka. From Historic caves have story to tell:

That was because of the area’s links to Maori prisoners taken from Taranaki and forced to labour in Dunedin between 1869 and 1881.

The Maori prisoners came in waves, with the first group of 74 – known as the Pakakohe group – sent to Dunedin in 1869 after Titokowaru’s War, an armed dispute in the mid-to-late 1860s, sparked by land confiscations in south Taranaki.

…The Maori prisoners also worked on other city projects, including the Dunedin Botanic Garden’s stone walls and the city road eventually named after them – Maori Rd.

They were eventually followed by 137 of Te Whiti’s “ploughmen”, also from Taranaki, who were detained without trial after peacefully resisting European occupation of confiscated land and brought to Dunedin in 1878-79.

The prisoners were held at Dunedin prison and transported to work sites, but 21 died during their time in Dunedin and were buried in unmarked paupers’ graves in the Northern Cemetery.

Housing conditions have improved somewhat, as has recognition of injustices in our colonial past.

I actually live in fairly substandard housing as a child. Our ‘house’ was actually two cottages connected by a 4 meter long covered path. Scrim walls. Water pipes froze in the winter – we sometimes cleaned our teeth in an ice edged water race. No fridge (we had a meat safe). I forgot to get kindling in one night (I suspect not the only time) and my mother woke me up early on a frosty morning to get some in so she could cook breakfast on the coal range (and probably to teach me a lesson of responsibility).

Child labour on an orchard, mostly unpaid, but when I was 9 I earned enough money so I could go on a holiday camp. I grew up in what would now be called poverty.

Enough diversion.

Can the new government stabilise house prices?

Presumably one of the things on the agenda of parties negotiating to form a new government will be property prices.

Can much be done to control property inflation? It is a world wide problem.

Is it already under control enough?

Property prices escalated early in the century – I bought a house in Dunedin in 2001 for $108,000 and sold it in 2006 for $245,000.

They flattened with the arrival of the New Zealand recession in 2008, followed by the Global Financial Crisis.

After a few years they took off again, especially in Auckland and some regional places like Queenstown. Over the last year they seem to have flattened off in Auckland but continue to surge in some other areas.

From Reddit: What can the new government do to lower or stabilize housing prices?

I used to live in KL back in the mid 2000s and have seen how housing prices there and in singapore skyrocket with the influx of overseas investors. Funny enough same thing happened here too

Let’s not turn this into a racial issue because it’s not. Money flowing overseas did increase housing prices. That’s a fact. Floodgates open and infrastructure could not keep up.

However Singapore and the likes of Canada have done stricter rules to stabilize and even lowered housing prices.

Not pre 2005 prices cause that’s not gonna happen but at least it’s helped wages to at least keep up with the prices bit by bit.

Rules like a first time home buyer has to stay in their property for first 5 years and not being able to rent it out.

Rules like not being able to flip a house within a few years.

Rules like that seem too restrictive. I have several times sold a house within five years due to changing circumstances or upgrading.

Only residents are able to buy land/property etc.

Capital gains tax.

List goes on.

Some of it is really common sense and I can’t help but wonder why national would not implement such measures years ago.

I can only guess that the Government had hoped that property prices would have levelled off without too much intervention, and that measures aimed at increasing land supply would have been quicker and more effective.

The Government may also have been caught flat footed by the downturn in Australia that saw a big turn around in trans-Tasman migration.

One comment:

I like the idea of foreign investors being locked toward building new houses as opposed to purchasing existing homes or something along those lines.

That is Labour policy. A response:

Australia has always had this, its a good idea in theory, butit doesn’t work on its own. There are too many loopholes and various schemes available to make you a non-foreign buyer. Also it wasn’t ever enforced properly.

Some suggestions:

…assuming that the new government is not as blinkered as the outgoing one, here are some reasonable ideas:

  • Only citizens can purchase freehold property (residential, commercial, and rural). If foreigners want to invest here, allow leases up to 99 years.
  • Universal land tax (e.g. 0.5%), with the revenue raised to reduce income taxes by the same absolute value. The outcome would be that the average family, with an average income, owning an average number of properties, won’t pay any more in tax. It would be a massive help to the economy, as workers would be rewarded significantly more for their labour.
  • Punitive rates (e.g. 3%) on land bankers, i.e. undeveloped land within urban boundaries. This has been used successfully overseas to encourage development and discourage land banking.
  • Stabilise immigration at a rate which corresponds to the country’s ability to build new homes, after accounting for natural population growth and making up the existing shortfall.

A land tax is worth considering, as long as it is offset by a reduction in income tax. It would be simple to implement if it is not complicated by exceptions. We already pay a form of land tax via our local body rates.

Stabilising immigration is not easy. We can control the number of new immigrants – and I think that has been fairly consistent. Winston Peters (and others) have claimed we have ‘mass immigration’, that’s either populist nonsense or ignorant.

But what has caused the biggest change in net migration is a sudden change in fewer New Zealand citizens leaving, especially for Australia, and a surge in New Zealanders returning. The Government cannot control this, and it makes planning stable nett immigration numbers difficult.

Do we need to do much?

Auckland house prices have stabilized already. We are waiting on evidence of falling, but time to sell has increased and inventory is decreasing. These are good signs.

It’s plateaued high, but at least it’s not increasing further.

We may be stuck with the current price levels, unless there is a major international influence. No Government will be keen on a significant slide in property prices.

A detailed comment from FrameworkisDigimon:

OP your solutions are way too authoritarian. And that’s me saying that. I am perfectly comfortable with states spying on me and CCTV cameras on every corner.

Investors are the problem: regardless of where they live. Owner-occupied or even just occupied housing is a crucial feature of doing things the right way. Getting investment money to go towards shares and other opportunities likely to improve productivity is important too. Long term housing availability requires breaking boom bust feature of housing construction because, shockingly, people keep having babies in recessions. To that end…

Land tax. This will encourage developing real estate rather than sitting on the land. There are lots of other benefits. Cut GST along with instituting this. Unless you own buckets of land and spend little, you’ll be better off.

Capital Gains Tax. Ghost properties which are just sitting there maybe being pointlessly renovated or maybe just completely empty are a consequence of being able to flip properties for easy money. Tax those gains. Basically, by Capital Gains Tax I mean adjust the tax system to favour (a) investing in shares and (b) investing in the construction of denser housing forms.

Harder urban boundaries (esp. in Auckland) and end subsidisation of greenfields development. This sound contradictory but if you keep building on fertile land you are literally killing this country. Sprawl is environmentally evil and contra-social sustainability.

Force places which are overloaded with “pull up the drawbridge, I’ve got mine NIMBYs” to accept (a) transit developments and (b) a variety of housing forms. Basically, the idea is that if you have a plot of land and could develop it into 7 units, you should be (i) able to do so and (ii) incentivised by the tax system to do so. The harder urban boundary is accompanied by fewer restrictions on the types of development that are able to occur within those limits… but with definite state oversight in order to avoid, e.g., leaky buildings (turns out, if you don’t regulate the cowboys out of the market, everyone is a cowboy).

Develop a large state owned building programme firm. I don’t care how this is done (the army advertises itself as a tradie’s paradise so maybe we should use it as one, nationalising some suitably large existing firm, starting from scratch) but it needs to happen. This entity would exist to build when private developers don’t want to build, and otherwise to build/oversee particularly large projects. For instance, planners might decide an areas could be more intensely developed. At that point figure out a heavy duty public transport scheme and start building it. Then get our entity to come along and build/fund some tower blocks, terraced houses and other types of property close to the route.

Key ideas: if land is expensive (it is), then you can make the dwellings cheaper by having more of them on the same amount of land, but our entire system is not designed to do this. Even worse, our system is designed to basically stop building anything in recessions. We have to adjust the incentives of all possible sources of money and bring the state in on the construction side, whilst also dramatically altering what kinds of infrastructure we build.

Whatever the incoming Government does to address housing and land availability it is unlikely to have a quick or dramatic effect.

Q+A – Adams v Twford on housing


Housing is a major issue for this election. Q+A has another debate between Amy Adams and Phil Twyford.


This rehashed the same old housing issues and I doubt whether it changed much in the debate.

Adams tried to emphasise things that are being done by the Government to alleviate a serious housing issue, and tried to divert from the problems that National were too slow to react to.

Twyford repeated his usual one lines, a number of which are blatantly misleading, and lacked in details about how Labour would deal with it. He said the problem was ‘simple’, which is nonsense.