NZ Election 2020: Government no longer placing figure on housing shortage

The Government has stopped counting how many more houses are needed to fill the nationwide shortage. 

New Zealand's housing crisis was a centre point of Labour's election campaign in 2017. As it formed the coalition government it pointed to a 71,000 shortfall nationwide. 

But as Newshub Nation discovered when it tried to get updated figures, the Government is no longer taking stock.  

The latest estimates are; the 2017 figure released by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment [MBIE]; and this housing stocktake report published in early 2018.

Nor does there seem to be an official goal set to resolve the crisis. 

"There are no specific targets we have in place for housing need/demand," said a Ministry of Housing and Urban Development spokesman.

Instead the Ministry has a "place-based approach" and is liaising with community leaders to establish need. 

The last time Labour did set a clear goal for housing was through its flagship Kiwibuild policy - with a promise to build 100,000 homes in ten years. 
As of August 2020 only 602 had been built in the last two years; a rate that would see it fall far short of its initial target. 

While it has done away with this, and all other targets, the Government does measure progress with this dashboard. It monitors key aspects of the market, including first-home buyers, rates of construction and public housing places.   

But can progress really be measured without a set starting point or end goal? It is a question Labour often asked while in opposition. 

It repeatedly called for the National Government to measure child poverty and set clear targets - as it pledged to do if it came to power. 

"We are going to establish a measure - a measure that we will report against in every budget," the Labour leader at the time, Andrew Little, said on Newshub Nation in March 2017. 

A pledge Jacinda Ardern reinforced as she took over the party leadership; promising to measure child poverty alongside economic growth and national debt. 

"I want to build a country where every child grows up free from poverty and is filled with hope and opportunity," she said at Labour's 2017 election campaign launch. 

And as Phil Twyford took on the housing portfolio in late 2017, he also sought to measure our housing crisis. 

It was, he said at the time, vital to understanding the problem along "the entire housing continuum from homelessness...through to the state of the real estate market". 

Three years and two housing ministers later; experts say New Zealand is still in the midst of a housing crisis; as house prices continue to soar and the social housing waitlist hits record highs. 

United Nation special rapporteur on housing Leilani Farha described it as a "human rights crisis of significant proportions". 

She said conditions violated the "right to housing" and the "right to health, security and life". 

Wellington-based University of Otago professor Philippa Howden-Chapman said the crisis is impacting the nation's health.  "Each hospital admission [for a housing-related condition] is pretty heart-rending and there are a lot of deaths in winter." 

A 2019 study found almost 20 percent of children admitted to hospital with a respiratory infection could be prevented if homes were warmer and drier. 

So given the seriousness of the housing situation, why has the Government changed its tune around the importance of taking stock? 

Property Council chief executive Leonie Freeman said while not a solution in itself, measuring the scale of the problem was still crucial.

"...not just demand, but supply and really understanding what is going on across the whole market. 

"At the moment it is really difficult to know how we are going...are things getting worse?" 

National's housing spokeswoman Jacqui Dean said the opposition's view was to focus on the affordability question.

"While once people were mainly worried about the mortgage payments, the most significant barrier to home ownership for many people at present is the savings needed for a deposit." 

She estimated the average Aucklander would need to save for a decade to afford a deposit. 

It is possible to put a number on the housing shortage; property data and analytics company CoreLogic gave Newshub Nation its estimated shortage of 56,000. 

But the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development said such an estimate was not accurate enough. 

"Calculating a single housing figure is very sensitive to the assumptions you make about such things; as how people choose to live, what types of houses are being built, and the historical starting point," a ministry spokesman said. 

And CoreLogic head of research Nick Goodall said looking beyond the question of the number of houses had its merits. 

He said outcome-based measurements, such as the creation of warm-dry houses and reducing homelessness, put the focus on important socio-economic and health issues. 

"We want people to be healthy and functioning in society. We need them to have good housing, whether it is renting or their own housing." 

But Goodall said progress had been made in terms of increasing supply over the last term - something he credits to both the public and private sector. 

Kainga Ora - the state agency responsible for social housing - provided data to Newshub Nation that showed the number of state homes had increased significantly in the last term. 

It had built 1463 and 1230 homes in each of the last two years; compared to 732 and 418 in the National government's last two years in government.  

It had also built more than 2,000 market and affordable homes around the Auckland region in the last three years. 

But as we look ahead to a new term, under a new Government, Goodall said neither of the main parties appeared to be offering much that would address affordability. 

"Most people would agree, things are unaffordable and we can't keep going this way."