Government report author: New Zealand's housing is a 'cluster'

The Government has commissioned what it calls a "warts and all" look at housing in New Zealand.

The Housing Stocktake is authored by Alan Johnson of the Salvation Army, economist Shamubeel Eaqub and Otago University Professor of Public Health Philippa Howden-Chapman.

Its findings are stark.

Things are bad, it says, and they are not going to get better any time soon. 

"The state of the Housing market is a cluster... You fill in the gaps," Mr Eaqub said at the report's release, politely bleeping himself while in the company of the Minister.

Mr Eaqub used the report's release to implore the Government to be much, much more ambitious with Kiwibuild and urged it to make immediate changes to rental laws. 

The Government will instead be starting with a report later this year.

Children are getting sick and dying

Children in sub-standard housing are more likely to be hospitalised for diseases linked to that housing, more likely to be re-hospitalised and more likely to die young.

Each year, 6000 children are admitted to hospital with diseases linked to poor-quality housing. Those children are 10 times more likely to die in the 10 years that follow.

Things are worst for Māori and Pasifika children.

Renters are more likely to live in sub-standard housing, and Māori and Pasifika are more likely to rent.

Only one-third of Māori babies and one-quarter of Pasifika babies live in houses their parents own.

So many renters

While about half of New Zealanders owned the home they lived in in 2013, the report says "about 70 percent of new households formed over the past decade are likely to have become tenants".

Rents may be increasing twice as quickly as wages in some areas and rentals are becoming more difficult to find as people rent for longer.

One of the starkest lines in the report concludes a section on private rentals:

"Regrettably, there are no short-term fixes to these problems," it says.

Thousands more claiming accommodation supplements

There will need to be a "radical review" of the accommodation supplement if the increase to the supplement is simply soaked up by "even higher rents."

The Government's announced increases to the supplement which will put $500 million more into the supplement programme and more than $400 million into the private housing market.

The number of elderly claiming the accommodation supplement while on Super is increasing by 2000 people a year.

The accommodation supplement is a benefit that subsidises housing costs.

The proportion of older people living mortgage-free has dropped from 86 percent to 72 percent. Superannuation rates assume mortgage-free homeownership, so the report concludes "there is a growing risk of more and more older people living in housing-related poverty."

Nearly all homeless are turned away from emergency services

For every 10 homeless people who approached emergency housing providers in 2017, eight or nine were turned away.

There is no data collected on those who are turned away or don't access Government help, so the scale of the homelessness problem is unknown.

Auckland - too many new people, not enough new houses

This will surprise few, but the report found people are arriving in Auckland much faster than houses can be built.

Net migration has surged from 33,000 (between 2007 and 2012) to 263,000 (between 2012 and 2017.) Auckland itself is growing by 40,000 people a year.

Housing affordability has been hindered by ballooning construction costs and an infrastructure development bottleneck made worse by Auckland Council debt.

The report said while planning, resource and building constraints "probably" take some of the blame in the short-term, in the bigger picture, there's a big question mark next to funding for the infrastructure needed for supporting new house building.

"It is by no means clear the local Councils and their ratepayers can continue to borrow to fund these assets," the report says.

The cost of construction is staggering

You may need to sit down for this one.

The average cost of building the average house has risen 180 percent over since 1998.

Just looking at the past five years, the average cost of the average house has increased 28 percent.

Government's housing programme is not ambitious enough

Mr Eaqub said Kiwibuild is not ambitious enough, and it's not detailed enough. 500,000 houses are needed, not 100,000, he said.

Mr Eaqub and Mr Johnson said immediate changes to rental laws need to be made.

Which bit tenancy law needs to be changed?

"The entire bloody thing. We need to rewrite it," Mr Eaqub said. 

He recommended giving tenants more security of tenure by making it harder for landlords to throw them out. Moving residental rental agreements closer to what we see in the commercial sector would be a start.

Models seen in Germany and Switzerland would be "a stretch too far" for New Zealand's landlords, he said, but law similar to that seen in Ireland and Scotland could work.

But an immediate rewrite is not the Government's plan. It will review the law first, starting later this year.

National claims the Government's Kiwibuild plan will take "years to ramp up", saying it's done "next to nothing" to add to progress made under National.

Since the new Government took power, it's haulted the sale of state housing, including to social housing providers and introduced the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill, which will require all new tenancies to be insulated or contain a heating source sufficient to make the house warm and dry.

Landlords will have until 2024 to meet the new standards.