Brendon Harre and Anthony Ireland propose encouraging a greater diversity of housing types, in particular new apartment buildings

Brendon Harre and Anthony Ireland propose encouraging a greater diversity of housing types, in particular new apartment buildings
Image of the corner of Pt Chevalier Road and Miller Street in Auckland

By Brendon Harre & Anthony Ireland*

The Kiwi Right to Housing Choice initiative is intended to make the above depicted transformation easier.

Housing policy in New Zealand is currently being reset. KiwiBuild needs to be rebuilt. It is likely KiwiBuild will focus on fewer but larger scale projects which will include a bigger range of housing typologies and ownership/tenure options, that better targets the full cross section of housing demand.

Housing policy would also benefit from a smaller scale bottom-up approach being part of the housing and urban development agenda, as large scale projects are not always possible or the best choice. The Kiwi Right to Housing Choice is my and Anthony’s suggested policy option to fulfil this role.

The Kiwi Right to Housing Choice can be delivered by four simple amendments to the Resource Management Act -in the form of National Policy Statements -and three central government initiatives.

National Policy Statement (NPS) is a directive issued by the Minister of the Environment -currently David Parker -under section 52(2) of the Resource Management Act 1991. Any Minister can gain approval to scope a new topic to be developed into a NPS. Once the NPS is issued the Environment Court and all local authorities are legally obligated to apply the directive.

Proposed National Policy Statements

1. In an existing residentially zoned and built-up urban area a property owner has the right to build up to a maximum of 5 floors and to a maximum height of 16 metres, excluding the height of foundations.

Rationale: The intent of this proposal is to assist the intensification of existing urban environments. It is not intended to be used in large brownfield or greenfield sites where development may be inappropriate or an Urban Development Authority approach would better develop the site to its full potential. 16m is the height that Auckland allows in its Apartment and Terrace House zone. It is a human scale height, similar to the height of trees. 16m is the maximum height that a conversation can be comfortably held between a ground and top floor. The intent of the foundation rule is to allow consideration for sea level rises and not to disadvantage building on hilly terrain.

2. This right can only be exercised with the written consent of the adjoining property title holders. This consent is to be entered on the property titles.

Rationale: The Kiwi Right to Housing Choice proposal creates a clearer legal pathway so that neighbours can better cooperate to increase construction, therefore it is a bottom-up housing supply mechanism. The proposal is in effect a city-wide ‘up-zoning’, that gives existing households a conditional right to build a commercially significant number of additional dwellings on their property. This valuable ‘developer gain’ will allow some sets of agreeable neighbours to create mutually advantageous housing construction plans.

An international urbanist group have called this broad approach hyperlocalism. Hyperlocalism is discussed further in the paper Rebuilding Suburbia - Hyperlocalism Can Help. In the UK a Conservative Party Minister advocates for a conceptually similar idea of -giving streets power over development -to build up to six floors in a paper titled - How the Tories can Win on Housing Again.

3. Once a property has this consent entered on its title it cannot be retracted (unless all parties agree in writing to reverse the process) and a property title that is granted permission to build up cannot withhold consent for adjacent properties to also build up.

Rationale: The Kiwi Right to Housing Choice initiative should be an inclusive right. A property owner who has used the initiative to build up should not be able to use the same set of rights to create a exclusionary property right by refusing permission for their adjacent neighbours to also build up. Making these rules non-exclusionary helps increase the housing supply potential. This will deliver a greater amount of social dividends, as discussed in the general rationale section.

4. These developments can have their consent withheld if it is proven to the Environment Court by the local authority that existing infrastructure cannot cope.

Rationale: The policies intent is that these developments have a minimum environmental footprint to ensure minimal infrastructure impact.

Central Government Policy Initiatives

1. Central Government to create an engineered design template for a variety of apartment buildings to be available at no cost to developers to encourage more apartment building.

Rationale: This lowers the marginal cost of construction by sharing common design templates. Lowering construction costs is particularly important for the productive use of urban land, because as land prices increase in response to rising demand to be close to city amenities, the market responds by building more floor space on top of the increasingly costly ground floor. Thus the market response to improving urban amenities and rising land prices is to substitute capital for land -in the form of taller buildings. In effect, new land is created by constructing more floor space in the air.

2. For the Commerce Commission to undertake a market study on the construction industry, as suggested by the outgoing Chairman of the Commerce Commission.

Rationale: This too lowers the marginal cost of construction by increasing competition. The more responsive the construction sector is at building upwards as city amenities improve and land prices rise the better. In economic terms this would be called elastic supply i.e. a relative small increase in demand and land prices causes a large amount of upwards building in response. Some cities like Tokyo are better at this than others, as discussed later in this paper.

The debate on whether urban spaces are fixed or flexible in nature is at the heart of many housing policy debates. There is an ideological dividing line between those who are optimistic or pessimistic about this fact. The most famous optimist is Edward Glaeser -author of Triumph of the City. A 10min video interview of Professor Glaeser with policy advice for Australia can be seen here. A fuller discussion about this ideological debate can be read in the paper - What is the True Nature of Cities.

3. For the government to implement a construction subsidy scheme for housing typologies and ownership arrangements that provides new housing for all income groups as discussed in the Future Proofing the Housing Market proposal.

Rationale: This also lowers the marginal cost of constructing buildings to a higher quality standard by way of government subsidy. Construction subsidies, at least in part, should be tied to defined and measurable quality targets as discussed in the paper Future Proofing the Housing Market. Other options for construction subsidies would be to subsidise schemes that allow the capitalisation of the accommodation supplement for approved community rental providers or families capitalising some benefits or tax credits.

General Rationale

The Kiwi Right to Housing Choice initiative can be used by the whole cross section of the housing market. For example -luxury apartment living, affordable community build co-housing projects, community rent-to-build housing and new state housing. Thus this proposal has the potential to improve the housing market at many different levels.

Existing built-up urban areas are good places to add more housing because it is likely to be close to workplaces, public transport, walking and cycling facilities and other desirable amenities. This sort of housing has a lower environmental impact.

Enabling an improvement in the supply of a full range of housing typologies can help combat the housing crisis.

The housing crisis has directly increased inequality by pricing people out of owner-occupied homes. Even worse, for the homeless they are priced out of rental accommodation as well. High housing costs relative to income impacts on many poverty statistics, in particular childhood poverty. Insecurity of rental tenure affects education as it can lead to an unnecessary large number of disruptive school changes.

Indirectly the housing crisis has decreased productivity by inhibiting workers and firms accessing productive city-based labour markets.

Urban land supply has its own productivity effects, as well. The value that is produced from urban land depends not just on its quantity, but on its productivity, and the productivity of land depends on how densely you can build on it. Allowing urban land to be more productive can improve housing supply - and thus bear down on housing costs -even as land prices rise. Greater London Authority’s James Gleeson has a blog post showing that central Tokyo has very high land values yet its house prices are relatively low compared to London, because Tokyo uses its land more productivity and its housing supply is more elastic.

Auckland house prices and Wellington rents have been shown to be significantly less affordable than Tokyo housing too.

Auckland’s 2016 Unitary Plan significantly up-zoned many high amenity locations where there is the most demand to build. Auckland had a good increase in the variety of built housing typologies as a result. Yet fundamentally, low-rise standalone housing remains the planning default setting, that is protected by rules such as set-back and shade-plane requirements. The Right to Housing Choice proposal extends the Unitary Plan’s improvement in Auckland’s housing supply. Given the impact the housing crisis has had on Auckland, all possible beneficial housing policy initiatives, such as this one, should be implemented.

The current government has committed itself to increasing investment in rapid transit, walkable communities and infrastructure for cycling and micro-mobility (e-scooters etc). This will raise urban amenity values and in response many landowners will decide to profit from this improvement by building more residential or commercial floor space. This proposal gives property owners an intensification tool to do that. The Right to Housing Choice being non-exclusionary means the intensification tool is competitive, which reduces capital gains and excessive profit making.

In towns and cities like Queenstown, Christchurch, Tauranga and Wellington that has had less upzoning this proposal could have a significant impact on the variety of housing typologies the market builds.

Policy initiatives that address New Zealand’s housing crisis can deliver social dividends in the areas of the environment, inequality and productivity. Because of the broad range of benefits, housing reform in one form or the other is supported across the political spectrum. Polling consistently shows that housing is the issue that concerns most New Zealanders.

The estimates above use CoreLogic residential dwelling data. The methodology closely follows the US study by Glaeser and Gyourko (2003). Source Sense Partners

*Anthony Ireland has 50 years experience in the building industry. He is a licensed builder, with qualifications in OHS, household sustainability and has completed various papers in town planning. Anthony developed townhouses in Auckland until excessive regulation made it unprofitable. His last project was a repair to an earthquake damaged house in Christchurch where one of the most pleasing achievements of the build was only creating one trailer load of landfill.

This is a repost of an article here. It is here with permission.

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"2. This right can only be exercised with the written consent of the adjoining property title holders. This consent is to be entered on the property titles."
- Good luck with this. I love the idea though.

There's always someone that decides to be a tool because they think they can extract some benefit for themselves. What happens under the current rules is that I've seen people refuse to sign even when it would benefit them greatly. Then the district plan is adhered to instead and I've seen people's views cut off in hilarious fashion (all because they refused to sign to keep their view).

Yeah I don't think it is going to happen. Depending on your definition of joining, the average block probably has 5 neighbours. In any nice area of Auckland I think it is highly unlikely that all 5 neighbours would agree. I wouldn't call myself a NIMBY but I think I would not agree to a big apartment block next door if I got the choice because I know there would be plenty of others disagreeing (why should I be the only martyr).
I think this will mean that either none of these get built, or they only get built in poorer areas where neighbours are less likely to care or via threats or bribes to neighbours.

What I would prefer is that the only planning rule the council can enforce is height to boundary, and that can be changed with the affected neighbour(s) consent. I really don't see the need for most of the other planning rules.

Overall it looks like an improvement to what are often ridiculous resource consent restrictions. More dwellings with a higher variety is a better idea, and would be more likely to produce results than waiting on KiwiBuild.

Now if only the Government wanted to sort out the issues with the Building Act, NZBC and Council issues.

The minor glitch is not many people in NZ want to live like this. Nice backyards are preferred by most people and access to public transport is not valued much at all. In the US surveys show 70% of people live in single family homes and 80% want to!

The idea of re-purposing NZ suburbs to become like Amsterdam is beyond lunacy. The attempts so far by restricting sprawl have produced only staggeringly overpriced housing and unbearable traffic congestion while ruining the pleasant green nature of the suburbs with hideous blocks of junk.

And to what end? Most NZ cities have no real central city employment anyway - Auckland has no more jobs in the city than Wellington. Yet we are supposed to live in some sunless box to go on some overcrowded bus to some job that doesn't exist anyway? It is no wonder the idea is so unpopular among real people - and amazing town planners and politicians are so obsessed by it.

Definitely agree.
Much smaller houses and sites should be available to meet the needs of all society.
The government should remove all density (incl plot size) & zoning restrictions.
The only restriction the government should have is that developers must provide a mix of plot sizes that cater for all incomes to meet socioeconomic goals.
Pointless to free up zoning restrictions just to end up with slums & lower socioeconomic tenement buildings

We seem to be seeing smaller and smaller plots, smaller houses with smaller floor areas but the whole 'cheaper' bit seems to be an elusive part of the equation.

Hobsonville Pt is a lovely place, but you are paying an arm and a leg for some houses that are not very big at all, even with the three stories in some terraces.

There's a little problem there. What usually happens when zoning restrictions are reduced?
Of course, land values increase.
It's a double edged sword in terms of housing affordability.
It's one of several reasons why I think the only way for affordability to be delivered is via the government.

Interesting effect that. The homeowners that take advantage of the upzoning receive a financial benefit yet the evidence from cities that have widespread upzoning like Tokyo is that it helps provide affordable housing.

One potential solution is to have 'development pre-conditions' for any higher density development in higher density zoned areas. For example have a minimum development sie of 1200 square metres. This would often require developers to buy two adjoining properties.
Blanket upzoning gives away value, often with limited benefit.

I'd be careful looking at Tokyo as an example. Although some central parts of Tokyo have had some population growth (with much of that being young singles migrating from the regions), greater Tokyo's population has not grown that much in the last 10 years. Also, many suburban areas of Tokyo still have a reasonable degree of regulation in terms of building height, coverage etc.

Hi Fritz,
It's the other way around.
The tight zoning restrictions currently in place are a significant factor in the high land (house) prices.
Removing zoning & density restrictions free up the land choices available.

But yes there is an issue if only selected land areas get rezoned for higher density. Their land values increase.

Yes and no.
Upzoning increases land values by enabling greater development rights.
There was widespread upzoning in Auckland with the Unitary Plan and that had a significant impact on inflating prices from 2015-2017.
However, the flatness in prices since 2017 is probably partly a result of the initial planning 'boom' settling down.
It's quite typical for upzoning to bolster land prices and then for them to flatten, provided the upxonjng is fairly widespread (and not monopolised into a few very select locations, as you allude to)

Liberalising of land use needs will increase value, yes, and rates need to increase in turn. The combination will incentivise more development of land to make the most of the value and split payment of the land rates.

Man I hope our cities up zone. i'd like to see wellington do this:

How do you define adjoining ? 16m is enough height to remove the direct sunlight three doors down from a plot and invade the privacy of an entire block.

Also most local road junctions simply aren't designed to have high rise residence concentrations.

With the greatest of respect these ideas needs to be put into real world scenarios. The article reads more like a dream scenario for a developer and a nightmare for everyone else down the same street.

I doubt there would be many cases of it affecting sunlight much further than the neighbours. I guess the council could apply the existing sunlight rules to the next neighbour over (for example Auckland Unitary Plan mixed housing suburban is 2.5m high on boundary + 1m high per meter in).
And privacy is not protected by existing planning rules - your neighbour can probably build 2 or more story today without your consent.

Like many others in North Shore we live in a standalone house on a slope. One side they could build 3 stories and I'd hardly notice it and the other side a simple one storey house built at the boundary would over-shadow me and my vegetables wouldn't grow in permanent shadow. Any system of planning rules and even no system will leave arbitrary winners and losers.

2nd thoughts - it is not the adjacent buildings that bother most of us - it is the adjacent neighbours. We had trouble with neighbours whose house we couldn't even see from ours (curve of the ground etc) but they insisted on parties at 2am that included taking their drumkit onto the deck. Maybe the Chinese could sell us their social credit software and then we could apply planning controls on the people not the building. Frightening.

Let's not kid ourselves that anything remotely like choice is involved, especially as we insist on dragging in more and more people to displace us.

The proposals are subsidies to encourage construction of density on high cost land (a land bankers dream). The ultimate public debt ratio required could exceed even Japan's current level, because we have much higher rate of population growth and therefore need to build faster.

Alternatively we could just open up land and not burden future NZers with massive debt. But that would mean upsetting the land bankers.

Open up land? Where and how?

Why Tram Valley Rd, Swanson, of course Fritz.
Wouldnt even need neighbour consent to build high density developments on that prime land!

Unaha has the answers!

Yeah, we should allow construction adjacent to the Swanson train station. And Takanini/Ardmore, Greenhithe, Albany, Okura, the land south east of Kumeu - all the land closer to Auckland than where the current sprawl is being constructed. This will reduce the cost of land in Auckland so allow a greater value to cost ratio to increase construction.

But nymad, a-trained-economist-don't-you-know, says that if the cost of building apartments falls we will get ?less? apartments being built. How nymad logic works is a mystery.

Same old Swan Song, different day.

Simple, just change the law, arrest disorderly NIMBY's who try to seek regress.

Or just maintain the status quo. What is the point of this article? To quote Yoda, 'do or do not do, there is no try'.

They tried something like this in Tauranga when I lived there. One of the areas selected for being an intensification 'node' was Greerton Village. Strangely enough not one of the more affluent hubs of the city was selected, it was all lower decile...but I digress. The initiative looked like a good idea, especially as I lived near by. Many however, did not and there was a backlash of enormous scale and the initiative was dropped as nimbys win the day. When it comes to community in this country everyone is out for themselves, fuelled mainly by greed in my opinion. The single best thing we could do to address the housing crisis is to nationalise land for housing via special purpose vehicles and lease that land for houses to be built on. What do you think of that?

Housing projects work well overseas. I have always admired the endless rows of identical apartment buildings in Tachikawa City.

Great to see some new approaches and somebody giving it a go. Congratulation Brendon and Anthony.

Thing is Kiwis just too difficult to live closely. It's the DNA. The ancestors sailed as far as they could from country and whanau.. And then spread out into single house and fences are very important. Unlike the USA. It's in our genes.

Something that requires no legislative change at all would be to incentivise those with large homes who no longer need all the space, to convert their existing homes into two 1-2 bedroom self-contained flats. Council could provide an in-house builder to visit interested residents, provide them with a rough estimate of conversion costs to determine viability, and then if the home owner decides to proceed with the conversion, the council could waive all council resource consent, building consent and DCs on such conversions.

This is a sustainable approach to making existing housing stock accommodate more individual family units - and it provides an income stream for the conversion homeowners by way of rental income (and allows them to age-in-place more comfortably).

5 floors is a nice scale, however not the cheapest multi-unit to build. Over 3 levels most would expect a lift with ongoing costs. Facades become more involved and expensive at various heights - 10m being one trigger. The AUP allows 11m and more from MHU up which allows 3 levels, so expect this will become a common height for low rise apts and terraces.

Thyere are no such things as 'human rights'. There are 'human wishes' - but if you don't address population within bounded systems (Earth, NZ, Auckland) you start overlapping 'rights'.

Seems to take a while to get the message across. Maybe that's because all involved in the debate, live at the expense of 'others'? Others somewhere else, others yet to be born......other species.

But it appears events will overtake the debate - after the sinking comes the lifeboats.


Here you go again. 'but if you don't address population within bounded systems'. Just how do you propose addressing population? What i assume you mean is that the global population MUST be reduced,presumably to a fraction of its current figure and quickly. What methods would you adopt to achieve this? I would love to know. It's hard to imagine that any really effective methods would be gentle.

I think you could stop immigration, and mount an awareness campaign in NZ.

And we could be thinking about cities in a different way - indeed about different living arrangements entirely. I just get a little annoyed at the arrogance of 'freedom' being advocated. Who for? Where? The moment you own a 1/4 acre, nobody else can.

But we go on with these 'we must accommodate the human species, and we must not limit how many or how they choose to consume' assertions. Hey-ho.

Leave your planning suggestions to a planner. These are relatively impractical suggestions and completely mistaken the purpose of an NPS. The RMA already provides opportunities to achieve the outcomes you seek. People just need to engage at the plan-making stage to set up the community expectation for city development. One massively helpful change to the RMA (either through a direct change or through an NPS) would be to limit third-party involvement in consenting processes to situations where an application is well outside of what might be anticipated in a given location. This could mean restricting notification considerations to Discretionary or Non-Complying Activities. This would mean that a developer would only need to engage with the Council, or no one at all if they meet permitted activity standards. It should be up to the community to determine what the upzoning parameters should be though (height, setbacks etc). Making a broad judgement through an NPS would be a massive failure to consider local context. What might work in Auckland might be completely innappropriate in Hamilton (or even in different suburbs). The RMA already provides for this to happen, and thankfully does so through an evidence-based decision making process. This provides a fair platform to consider the effects on property rights v wider public benefits (including future residents). The only other factor at play is the involvement of local politicians and them playing to their constituents. This can easily be remedied through a requirement to use independent commissioners. I like the idea of upzoning, but disagree with how you think we need to get there. In my opinion we already have the tools. They just need to be used.

The costs and benefits for many aspects of building such as height, shadeplanes, setbacks, are costs and benefits that primarily affect the property proposing the build and the next door properties. If the effects don't extend further then why do others need to be involved? Why not allow neighbours a legal pathway to cooperate, so if agreements can be reached, then more building is allowed? Why make this process difficult, transaction costs of dealing with bureaucracies can be significant barrier. Especially when more building has so many positive advantages for wider NZ society?

I'm not sure legislative change is needed for this. In many cases you are likely to have a good chance of securing resource consent approval for taller, denser developments if you have the approvals of adjoining neighbours.

P.S I think planners at their worst are modern day blood letters. The service they offer has no merit and is based on ignorance.

Very few Kiwi people actually want to live in an apartment. Its a distance second choice based on what you can afford at the time. Apartments can turn into slums and are generally bad news. The biggest problem is we cannot even build decent apartments other than shoe boxes and what you would call a decent size apartment that is "Livable" is the price of a house anyway and no you cannot build one next to me, put up a complex of them out in some greenfield satellite town.

Carlos that is your choice and no one is proposing taking away your choices.

But someone else might feel differently about building apartments and this might become another person's much desired home.

This proposal is about giving people more choices and more options for what they can do with their property, how they can cooperate with their neighbours and the type of homes and neighborhoods that they can live in.

All of these choices are voluntary. There is no compulsion... it is really about freedom...

I have no problems with high rise apartments, just dont try and build them near existing one and two story residential buildings, that is just common sense. Put them all in one place like they do in other countries like Japan and South Korea for those that like this type of housing.

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