The multimillion-dollar cost of tweaking KiwiBuild

Tweaking KiwiBuild to allow groups of buyers to combine their grants and cutting deposit and loan requirements comes at a multimillion-dollar cost. 

The KiwiBuild reset was announced on Wednesday, including financial support for shared ownership schemes and dropping the promise of 100,000 houses in 10 years. 

But official documents show the cost of some of the reset's other announcements, such as changes to the HomeStart Grant and Welcome Home Loan, would cost more than $20 million. 

The deposit requirement for a Welcome Home Loan - now called First Home Loan - for new and existing homes, has been reduced from 10 percent to 5 percent. 

The same will now apply to HomeStart Grants, now called First Home Grants.

The First Home Grant can now also be applied to a group of buyers, subject to existing income caps. 

It will allow groups to each combine their $10,000 First Home Grant and their KiwiSaver savings to buy a first home together. 

Currently, a group is only able to get two First Home Grants at $20,000. 

Housing Minister Megan Woods received advice from Treasury about resetting KiwiBuild.
Housing Minister Megan Woods received advice from Treasury about resetting KiwiBuild. Photo credit: Newshub

While the changes have been welcomed by some in the real estate industry, who say it will make it easier for renters to get into the property market, it will come at a high cost. 

Treasury advice to Housing Minister Megan Woods shows the cost of reducing the First Home Grant deposit from 10 percent to 5 percent would be $17.3 million. 

The cost of dropping the deposit requirement for a First Home Loan would cost $4 million, and the cost of allowing groups to combine their First Home Grants would be $1.4 million. 

Therefore the total estimated cost of the changes would be $22.6 million. 

In its advice to Dr Woods, Treasury said much of the cost could be absorbed by underspends in First Home Grants and First Home Loans. 

Last year, $21.3 million was leftover from an allocated $106 million for First Home Grants. In addition, $2 million was leftover from $7.7 million for First Home Loans. 

That leftover $23.3 million would cover more than the cost of the changes. 

But Treasury said underspend is expected to shrink over time, so it is "unlikely that any further changes could be funded from underspends beyond those proposed". 

The documents - dumped the day after the reset was announced - also reveal that a proposal by former Housing Minister Phil Twyford was shot down. 

Former Housing Minister Phil Twyford proposed doubling the First Home Grants for new builds.
Former Housing Minister Phil Twyford proposed doubling the First Home Grants for new builds. Photo credit: Newshub

Twyford, who lost the housing portfolio to Megan Woods in Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's June Cabinet reshuffle, proposed doubling the First Home Grants for new builds, making it $20,000 per person. 

Treasury said in its advice that it did not recommend "making significant changes to the level of deposit assistance as part of the [KiwiBuild] reset". 

The financial policy advisory said: "Doubling HomeStart grants [First Home Grants] for new builds is no longer a preferred option given it will be poorly targeted and expensive."

It's also revealed that Twyford submitted a bid in Budget 2019 for a fund to build sub-market rentals for "whom a market rent is unaffordable".  

But that didn't go ahead. 

In the end, $400 million was set aside from the $2 billion KiwiBuild fund to support shared ownership schemes, which was part of the Greens' confidence and supply agreement with Labour. 

The KiwiBuild reset was nine months in the making. It was announced in January following the Prime Minister's admission that the interim targets could not be met. 

The advice to the Government is that homeownership rates have been in persistent decline and at the lowest level for 60 years. 

It is now up to Dr Woods to breathe new life into KiwiBuild in time for the 2020 general election.