How it happened: The story behind Labour and National's political truce on housing

Labour and National's historic truce on housing all began when Judith Collins wrote a letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in January proposing a bipartisan solution.

In her letter, Collins said the resource consent process for building homes under the Resource Management Act (RMA) was too restrictive. She suggested emergency legislation to open up housing supply, in advance of longer-term reform of the RMA.

In April, Collins presented her own legislation that would give city councils powers to fast-track building more houses. It would effectively put into place similar powers that were used following the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes.

The Government had already allowed some fast-tracked infrastructure that bypassed the RMA to help stimulate the economy in the wake of COVID-19. The approvals process instead went to expert panels that set the conditions for approval. 

The Greens voted against it over concerns it reduced public participation and narrowed environmental considerations. The law had a 'sunset clause', meaning it would be repealed two years from enactment.

In June, Housing Minister Megan Woods and Environment Minister David Parker wrote to National confirming they saw merit in the proposal to increase the supply of residential housing, according to Collins.

"They welcomed National's contribution to further development of policy to allow a serious uplift in new housing in urban areas," Collins says. 

It culminated in an historic joint press on Tuesday, with Collins and her housing spokesperson Nicola Willis taking to the Beehive podium alongside Woods and Parker. 

Labour and National have committed to work together to provide policy certainty to developers and first-home buyers by cutting red tape to boost housing supply. 

To do that, the Government's National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD) that directs councils to make room for growth both 'up' and 'out' by 2024, has been fast-tracked by at least one year. 

National leader Judith Collins and housing spokesperson Nicola Willis speaking at the Beehive podium.
National leader Judith Collins and housing spokesperson Nicola Willis speaking at the Beehive podium. Photo credit: Newshub

Under the changes, people will be able to build up to three homes of up to three storeys on most sites, without the need for resource consent. Most district plans currently only allow for one home of up to two storeys. 

Modelling by PwC found the proposed rules are expected to add 48,200 to 105,500 dwellings, over the next five to eight years. 

"It is very important in something like RMA reform housing that it takes a long time to get a house built, it takes a long time to bring about changes, and we've both as major political parties who normally lead governments, we need to be able to take a bipartisan approach," Collins told reporters. 

"Developers and homeowners and people who want to be homeowners, they need us to show cross-party and also cross-term support for changes so that we don't change the rules on them part-way through a development.

"This is not just about us. One day we will not be politicians but we are still Kiwis who worry about the fact that we have a country where an entire generation is growing up thinking they can't buy a home and actually, that's not good enough."

But Collins won't let Labour off the hook. 

"I think it's important to understand that the role of the Opposition is not only to propose but also to oppose when we believe that's the right thing for the country.

"It certainly is something that we take very seriously and I would like to see anyone try and muzzle Nicola."

Woods said it's about giving people certainty. 

Housing Minister Megan Woods.
Housing Minister Megan Woods. Photo credit: Newshub

"It's actually about sending a very strong message to people making quite long-term investment decisions in many cases that are going to stretch over 10, 20, 30 years," she said.

"It is actually about giving that long-term signal and long-term certainty to people so that we can start to see the planning and the investment that we need to come on stream to get the houses that we need to solve our housing crisis."

The Greens, who have a cooperation agreement with Labour, welcomed the multi-party approach to allowing more homes to be built, but warned planning rules will not be a silver bullet by itself. 

"The housing crisis finds its roots in a range of issues, all of which need to be addressed - from the capacity of the construction sector to the cost of importing materials, to a tax and legislative framework that benefits investors instead of protecting renters and empowering those seeking to buy their first home," said urban development spokesperson Julie Anne Genter. 

"An approach that deals with only one of these issues is not enough."

The need to address housing is dire. CoreLogic's recent Housing Affordability Report showed it was "as bad as it's ever been" with the average property value across New Zealand 7.9 times the average annual household income, a record high in its 18-year history.

There is hope on the horizon. Stats NZ data last month showed the number of new homes consented in the year ended June was at a record high of 46,453 - an increase of 24 percent increase on 2020.