Housing affordability is a hot topic and a complex issue requiring a range of integrated tools to address the problem effectively. What emerges for me in relation to affordability is ‘choice’.
Housing affordability is a hot topic and a complex issue requiring a range of integrated tools to address the problem effectively. What emerges for me in relation to affordability is ‘choice’; because we choose where we want to live. Not just because we can afford it, but because of a number of competing factors which often involves compromise
Living in a big city means more types and variations on the housing types, and more compromise. People choose what is important to them when looking to house themselves or their household.
Some of the challenges we are starting to address with our clients includes the change in the demographics of our society and the resulting demands for housing choice. We are now seeing the development of projects that challenge our expectations about the way we live in our urban areas and offer greater choice.
Recently, I wrote an article for New Zealand Construction News as Chairman of the New Zealand Planning Institute commenting on some of these issues. What this topic raises is the many factors that influence the affordability of, or access to, appropriate housing including:
- the number of houses on the market - while land can be zoned and consents approved, this doesn’t actually physically get the houses built!
- investors and developers decisions; not unreasonably a developer is after the best return for them. However without a ‘public’ housing market, developers control the release of housing stock and they make their own decisions on when to build
- decisions that can be influenced by cost and availability factors e.g. resource availability or the cost of materials
- the cost of infrastructure provision e.g. the cost of extending and expanding capacity of infrastructure into ’greenfield’ land, as well as broader economic issues such as tax and lending policies
- strategic planning direction. When we look at overseas examples we see that national planning frameworks exist for the likes of England, Wales and Scotland. These planning frameworks provide a clear path towards identifying local and national priorities, including housing. This is balanced with other priorities and doesn’t necessarily influence affordability but generally maintains a supply.
With major urban areas housing, costs cannot simply be reduced by releasing more land for development and equally, we cannot lock up land in a way that constrains choice in housing. Furthermore there are other costs - to the economy in loss of productive soils, to the taxpayer/ratepayer in the costs of supply of infrastructure; and the social and cultural cost in terms of longer commutes and travel to services and community.
If we want to provide a long term, sustainable solution, it is important to understand the demand for housing including type and location to help plan for what is needed now and in the future for communities. We need to expand our thinking from traditional housing types and be innovative in considering the optimal use of land already set aside for development.