Local Body Elections: Auckland mayoral candidates on housing

Brown, Minto, Palino

It’s that time of the electoral cycle where you get a big fat envelope in the mail, with short blurbs about hundreds of people trying to win your vote for everything from the Mayoral office to the local licensing trust.

Who on earth should you vote for? We decided to help you make an informed decision – at least, in an area we are quite passionate about.

With that in mind, we emailed as many Auckland mayoral candidates as we could find contact details for, and asked them for their views on the most pressing housing issues facing Auckland.

We were grateful to receive replies from the leading candidates as well as some of the lesser-known office seekers, whose views in a democracy are still worth considering.

It makes for a very long blog, so to go to whatever questions interest you the most just click on the questions below. In the interests of accuracy we’ve presented all answers in unabridged form. Enjoy, and hopefully this will help you in your decision-making. Make sure you vote!

What do you think is causing Auckland property prices to increase?
Are you concerned about how the Reserve Bank’s new loan to value ratio restrictions might affect first home buyers in Auckland?
What is your view on the Auckland Unitary Plan?
Do you think Auckland should build outwards, or upwards?
Do you think the Council has over-regulated the building of new houses?
Do you believe foreign buyers are affecting the property market?
Does the Council have a role to play in providing housing for those who can’t afford to buy?
Finally, is there any other reason why Aucklanders should vote for you as Mayor?


What do you think is causing Auckland property prices to increase, and what would you do, if elected, to address this?

LEN BROWN (INDEPENDENT):

There are many factors driving the Auckland housing market, and we must avoid being simplistic and focus on just one.  I will use the Unitary Plan and the Housing Accord to contribute to addressing housing affordability – I ensured there are specific mechanisms in the Accord to do this.  But there are many other wider factors beyond the Council’s control, such as economic conditions, population growth and building sector costs.  In addressing affordability, we also need to be very careful to not impact negatively on homeowners’ existing housing equity.

JOHN PALINO (INDEPENDENT):

There are several factors behind the property price increases that we’ve experienced, but they come together to suggest that the problem is primarily a supply issue.

We need to build more homes, but under Len Brown’s leadership, municipal urban boundaries have not been moved to release more land for developments.  Brown did not sign the Housing Accord with the Central Government, which could have helped to start building the homes we need.  The Unitary Plan’s focus on intensification building makes things worse.  Building more, and even smaller – living units in a finite urban space restricts possible supply and pushes prices upwards.

I would sign the Housing According immediately, so that after the Unitary Plan is agreed to and formally in place we can build the 39,000 homes needed.  I would definitely work more closely with Central Government, to explore ways of expediting the building process, everything from consenting to construction.

JOHN MINTO (MANA):

Property investors are the main problem. We need a tough capital gains tax to drive them out of the housing market.

The greatest shortage of housing is for affordable rental housing so I would build affordable 20,000 council rental homes (see www.mintoformayor.org.nz for more details).

STEPHEN BERRY (AFFORDABLE AUCKLAND):

Housing prices are increasing because of the policies of our Council. The urban boundary creates a limit on land supply, which does nothing to dampen demand but a lot to drive up price. A high school economics graph will demonstrate this.

Restrictive zoning practices, which promote central planning over private property rights, are also a massive contributing factor. The cost of compliance with various zoning regulations adds months of delays and thousands of dollars to the cost of construction.

The ability of professional activists to object to development which has no effect on their own property is also a drag on growth and should be curtailed. I’m completely supportive of having safeguards to prevent property owners having their rights violated by impractical neighbouring activities, but don’t want to see this safeguard high-jacked by aesthetics activists.

PAUL DUFFY (INDEPENDENT):

Thanks for the opportunity to address your members, customers, and followers.

Rather than address each question I thought I’d provide a link to my blog, in particular the article just published about affordable housing, which addresses some of your questions. I will be addressing the remaining questions in future posts.

Blog: http://nzfinance.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/how-to-solve-aucklands-housing/

ANNALUCIA VERMUNT (COMMUNIST LEAGUE):

Working people today face a housing crisis, but it is one that is totally a product of capitalism.

Whether you own or rent, housing is more and more unaffordable. As a result there is greater overcrowding. And much of the housing stock is cold, moldy, and substandard, which affects people’s health and wellbeing.

The problem is that housing – especially in Auckland – is a major form of investment and speculation to turn a profit. So this trading in houses continually pushes the price up.

At the same time, if market prices do plunge, many working people who have mortgaged themselves to the hilt will find that their property is suddenly worth less than the debt they owe to the bank.

Ultimately, if you are a worker, your house belongs either to a landlord or to a bank – it is never securely yours.

We say build and fix up the houses as part of a massive government-funded public works programme in order to create tens of thousands of jobs and reduce the competition fostered by unemployment, and give the houses to the people who need to live in them.

Affordable, quality housing must be a right. Our homes should not be commodities traded for profit. In order to end soaring rents and overcrowding, and so that no landlord can evict and no bank foreclose, we need to nationalise the land and housing stock.

 

Are you concerned about how the Reserve Bank’s new loan to value ratio restrictions might affect first home buyers in Auckland?

LEN BROWN:

The intention behind the restrictions is good, but it is certainly not a silver bullet.  I worry that it will penalise those who are suffering from the affordability issue because it is likely to make it harder for first time home buyers who are struggling to put together a deposit.

JOHN PALINO:

Yes it does concern me, because it will make it harder for first home buyers to reach their goals of purchasing homes.

We understand why the Reserve Bank would do this – to cool the demand in the market and hopefully put some downward pressure on prices.  At the same time, as the market continues to heat up, new or first-time homebuyers cannot keep up with better financed homeowners and investors who have easier access to credit, and so they spend more time saving for deposits as prices continue to rise.

Restricting all foreign investment is not the answer, but Aucklanders could use a hand up in some form. Unfortunately, the Central Government, and not Council, controls this area of policy.

JOHN MINTO:

Yes – it doesn’t address the real problem which is driving up house prices.

STEPHEN BERRY:

Very concerned. This move will do absolutely nothing to curb hyper-inflation in house prices and will simply make it even harder for young couples and families to buy their first home. The housing bubble is not being fueled by new entrants looking for their first family home so it baffles me that the Reserve Bank would consider this policy to be a good idea.

 

What is your view on the Auckland Unitary Plan?

LEN BROWN:

Developing a unitary plan for Auckland – which meant amalgamating eight different district and regional plans – was always going to be difficult and controversial. It was for this reason that we have undertaken an entirely voluntary round of community engagement on the draft plan. It is the biggest resource management plan ever in New Zealand and is still not perfect, and no one should expect it to be, but I think we have gone a long way to producing a proposal close to what our communities want and also looking towards the future.

It is not yet finished. The next three years of statutory consultation will provide us with an opportunity to get even closer to getting the best plan for Auckland.

JOHN PALINO:

I think that it was rushed to notification, that it needs to be revised to include more of the views of Aucklanders, and that it does not address the problems we have regarding congested transport and housing supply.

JOHN MINTO:

It’s a blueprint for developers rather than a community development plan and it’s based on the absolutely false notion that Auckland will have a million extra people in the next 30 years. We need managed growth in Auckland and growth managed away from Auckland.

STEPHEN BERRY:

The plan does nothing to address the real causes of unaffordable housing. It is too prescriptive in its approach to zoning, does not respect property rights and does nothing about the problem of limits on land supply.

 

Do you think Auckland should build outwards, or upwards?

LEN BROWN:

Neither approach is preferable on its own. If Auckland simply expanded out, we would have Los Angeles-style sprawl. If we only intensified, we would see more pressure on land prices. This is a complex exercise in balancing the expectations and dreams of Aucklanders with the consequences of the population growth that is occurring and beyond the Council’s control. It will involve some growing out, some growing up, and an awful lot of doing things smarter.

JOHN PALINO:

How we develop or build is more complex than to decide whether to build upwards or outwards. I disagree with too much focus on intensification, and I do not support sprawl. We need to control sprawl by strategically intensifying. This is why I support the building of a second CBD. We must intensify in areas that have the infrastructure to support more building.

JOHN MINTO:

Mainly upwards but nothing like the unitary plan proposals.

STEPHEN BERRY:

I think that decision should be made by individual property owners rather than council central planners. As long as the decision made by that property owner does not violate the property rights of their neighbour then I think they should be able to decide for themselves.

Obviously I am not suggesting that 12 storey apartments should be permitted to block out the sunlight of a single storey suburban home or smokestacks be placed haphazardly around the city. However zones do need to be more flexible by recognizing property rights and permitting a greater variety of residential developments. The urban residential limit should also be abolished so rural Aucklanders have the same right to make their own decisions about land use as urban Aucklanders.

 

Do you think the Council has over-regulated the building of new houses?

LEN BROWN:

No one wants a re-run of the leaky homes disaster – caused by the building industry deregulation of the 1990s – which has left huge bills, much of which will have to be picked up by ratepayers and taxpayers. Similarly, no one wants nit picking regulation. We are working every day that we get the balance between safeguards and commonsense right.

I am certainly against regulation for the sake of it, and will continue to knock that on the head wherever it appears. We need the right balance between regulatory gain and regulatory pain. 

JOHN PALINO:

Yes. The Council could have taken more positive steps earlier to build more houses. They refused to sign the Housing Accord until recently, and there are too many points of bureaucratic red tape in the building or development consents process that act as barriers to new housing.

JOHN MINTO:

No – leaky homes, shoebox apartments and the brainless developments at the bottom of Anzac Avenue should be a lesson to us all.

STEPHEN BERRY:

Most definitely. Developers have to jump through a plethora of hoops to embark on new projects, such as ensuring the appearance of the houses is pleasing to the particular bureaucrat dealing with their application.

Councillors on both sides of the spectrum, such as Sandra Coney, will identify buildings constructed in an architectural style they do not personally like and jump on a campaign bandwagon to stop any further houses being built in that style, then bemoan the lack of affordable housing available in Auckland!

 

Do you believe foreign buyers are affecting the property market, and if so what would you do about this if elected?

LEN BROWN:

This is a convenient, simplistic but unfortunate diagnosis. We are an international city, open for business and working hard to attract skilled migrants and investment. Growth brings many positive aspects, not just the negative ones that some people focus on.

We also know from a May 2013 study that 90% of house sales in Auckland were to New Zealand residents. I am very much of the view that putting up the “you’re not welcome” sign is not part of a prosperous future.

JOHN PALINO:

I doubt that they are the only factor affecting the market. Regulating foreign buyers must be carefully considered. We want foreign investment in our markets, housing or otherwise. However, the escalating prices in the market is real, and the frustrations expressed by local residents is understandable.  And, foreign buyers are part of the demand side of the equation.

There are several steps the Central Government can take to regulate foreign buyers, and their policy jurisdiction leaves me with not much I can do as Mayor. But, I would take measures to increase the supply of homes to stabilise prices. Also, I would support restricting foreign buyers from owning properties if they do not live in Auckland. This is because their purchases remove investment opportunities from Aucklanders, helping to push prices up.

I would also support measures to help Aucklanders living and working in our economy to have a hand up in receiving credit to buy homes.

JOHN MINTO:

All property investors are the problem – not just foreign or just local – all should be driven out of the housing market.

STEPHEN BERRY:

The effect foreign property buyers have on the market is negligible. They have become a scapegoat for xenophobic socialist politicians who blame them for driving up the cost of housing when the reality is that it is the socialist politician’s regulations which are responsible for the housing bubble.

I have no intention of placing any restrictions on foreign house buyers. The other reforms I have identified as necessary to fix price inflation will be far more effective.

 

Does the Council have a role to play in providing housing for those who can’t afford to buy?

LEN BROWN:

Auckland Council operates almost 1500 residences for the elderly, and we are looking at upgrading and redeveloping some of these.

In addition to that though, I see our role in this area as providing an environment consistent with housing affordability and housing choice. This involves getting the Unitary Plan right, maximising the impact of the Housing Accord, getting rid of unnecessary regulation, sorting transport planning and working very closely with both the Government, developers and residents.

JOHN PALINO:

No. This area of responsibility belongs to the Central Government primarily, but Council has the responsibility to advise the Government on the need for subsidized or state housing in Auckland.

As Aucklanders, we are the experts on local issues and I would work closely with Government to help ensure that as many Aucklanders as possible at least have homes to live in.

JOHN MINTO:

Yes – see the policy to build 20,000 affordable homes.

STEPHEN BERRY:

No. As all the regulations on housing currently enacted by Council have had a negative effect on the housing market, I expect any increased involvement will only make things worse.

Cathy Casey’s successful amendment to the Unitary plan requiring residential developments in excess of 15 properties to make 10% of houses ‘affordable’ will have virtually no impact on house prices, though it will either legislate compulsory slum sections in new developments or disincentivise wide-scale building projects.

The market is the best method of determining fair property prices but it is currently being completely distorted by economically illiterate politicians who think they know better.

 

Finally, is there any other reason why Aucklanders should vote for you as Mayor?

LEN BROWN:

No answer supplied.

JOHN PALINO:

The voters can be assured that I am not running for Mayor for the money. I am a restaurateur able to earn money in business, but I chose to stand for Mayor because of the people.

I will stand against unfair tendering processes, and I will stamp out corruption as I investigate and identify them. I will serve the people with integrity, with prudent financial management, as well as transparency and accountability.

The current Mayor has had 3 years to reduce rates, manage our city’s debts effectively, provide effective transport, and 3 years to listen to the community. Aucklanders deserve a leader who can deliver these things.  Aucklanders aspire to have a world-class city, but a world-class city needs a leader with business and international experience, and so Aucklanders need a new Mayor.

JOHN MINTO:

Mana is bringing four big bold policies to address the key issues facing Auckland – unaffordable homes, unlivable wages, traffic gridlock and Sheriff of Nottingham rates. More details are on www.mintoformayor.org.nz.

STEPHEN BERRY:

I am the only candidate pledging to cut rates for all Aucklanders. Not a cap on rates or a promise to keep increases below the rate of inflation. I will actually act rates across the board.

I promote fiscal responsibility by restricting the council to its proper role of administering the basic infrastructure needed to keep the city functioning. I won’t be splurging ratepayer’s money on skateboarding etiquette teachers, theatres, car races or artificial white-water rafting centres. I have also committed to eliminating borrowing, which will reach $1.2 billion this year, by the end of my first term.

I am the only candidate that genuinely respects property rights and as you can see from my earlier answers, am the only candidate to have a credible plan for housing affordability in Auckland.

PAUL DUFFY:

I have been involved with property for many years and from all aspects (owning, selling (REINZ), residential and commercial, NZ and abroad). I believe I understand the industry and the challenges!

My key message is to prevent Auckland’s path to bankruptcy by 2020 by ensuring financial discipline at Auckland Council. There is too much debt and ubiquitous annual deficits. After the last 8.5 years educating Aucklanders financial literacy, household debt is also a significant issue, with mortgage debt and mortgage servicing the main contributors.

I look forward to your feedback and support.

ANNALUCIA VERMUNT:

I ask you to not only vote for us but to join us in building a fighting movement. Working people in Auckland, across New Zealand, and around the world face grinding attacks on our jobs, wages, working and living conditions, as well as our rights. This assault is a product of capitalism’s global crisis and a deepening slowdown in worldwide production and trade.

The capitalist rulers, and their parties in city and national government, try to make us bear the burden of their crisis in order to restore their declining rates of profit. They want to reverse the gains workers have won in past struggles.

This assault can only be answered by working people waging a struggle to take political power into our own hands so we can put an end to capitalist rule and reorganise society for the benefit of the vast majority. We need to mobilise our own strength independently of the capitalist parties and organise ourselves politically to forge a way forward.

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