Backlash over Labour's public housing 're-announcement' prompts firm defence from Jacinda Ardern

Labour's announcement of where additional public houses will go has been labelled a "re-announcement", but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says it's all part of the Government's unfolding housing plan. 

The Government announced on Thursday that the 8000 additional public and transitional housing places announced in Budget 2020 as part of a $5 billion investment will go in the regions where population growth has exceeded new housing supply. 

The announcement has been ridiculed by the Opposition, with ACT's deputy leader and housing spokesperson Brooke van Velden releasing a press release titled 'From year of delivery to year of re-announcements'. 

"The Prime Minister cannot be telling us the big response of a transformational Labour Government to the shortage of houses being built in New Zealand is which regions will get the new state houses announced in last year's Budget," said van Velden. 

"New Zealanders can't live in a re-announcement."

National's housing spokesperson Nicola Willis said "bolder action" is required from the Government to fix the housing crisis, as house prices rise beyond the reach of first-home buyers, and the public housing waiting list continues to grow. 

"The social housing waiting list is growing at an alarming rate. In the past 12 months alone another 7900 people put their hand up for a home. At this rate, another 32,000 people could be on the waiting list by 2025. That makes today's announcement a drop in the bucket when it comes to fixing New Zealand's housing woes," Willis said. 

"More and more Kiwis are being priced out of the private market as rents surge and house construction fails to keep up with demand. Rents have gone up $100 per week in just the past three years. This is a far higher rate than any time in our history. What is Jacinda Ardern's solution to that problem?"

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking to media in Nelson.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking to media in Nelson. Photo credit: Newshub

Ardern, speaking in Nelson at Labour's caucus retreat, said the announcement was a "continuation" of what has been a "successful" public housing programme. 

"We're on track for our delivery of our public housing programme. We are now expanding it; we're targeting identified areas where we have real need, and setting out where those extra homes will be built across to 2024."

Ardern was asked how the Government is "expanding" the programme, when the 8000 additional public housing places had already been announced in Budget 2020. 

"The 8000 houses," Ardern responded. "That's what I'm referencing from the last Government. We've now got the continuation into 2024. We're not dressing this up as a new announcement. This already was what we announced in the Budget. These are the places they go."

Housing Minister Megan Woods pointed blame at the previous National-led Government for selling off statehouses. Had National not done that, the current Labour Government wouldn't be playing catch-up, she said. 

"We're incredibly proud that since November 2017 our Government has delivered 4759 newly-built state houses alongside a massive programme of retrofits to support our vision that every New Zealander should live in a warm, healthy home," Dr Woods said. 

"It's a massive task off the back of nearly a decade under National when vast swathes of public housing was sold off from under New Zealanders and the ball was dropped on building new stock. We would not have a register of people in need of public housing if there had been investment like we are now to increase state housing."

Ardern said housing is one of New Zealand's "toughest long-term problems" and that the current rate of housing price growth is "unsustainable", with first-home buyers shut out. 

"There is no silver bullet for fixing the housing crisis but that is not a reason for inaction. It's a reason to tackle this issue on multiple fronts and on an ongoing basis," she said. "It will continue to take a concerted effort across the term."

The Prime Minister provided a timeline for how the Government plans to tackle the housing crisis in the year ahead. 

  • By late February, the Government will have received and considered the advice the Finance Minister sought from the Reserve Bank and Treasury on demand-side initiatives. Ardern said the Government's actions will aim to tilt the balance towards first-home buyers and aim to take some of the heat out of the market. 
  • The Government will advance reforms of the Resource Management Act (RMA). Ardern said one of the major objectives will be to address planning constraints to free-up supply of housing. High-level decisions will be announced in February with an exposure draft of the first Bill aimed to be released in May. 
  • Also in May, the Budget will contain further measures to address supply. 
  • By July 31, councils must have prepared "housing and business capacity assessments", as laid out in the new National Policy Statement on Urban Development that requires more land to be freed up for housing. It encourages denser housing developments within close proximity of "rapid transit".