It's often said that an 'environmentalist' (being someone who defines themselves by their opposition to new development) is usually someone who already has their own bush cabin.
A new report by the New Zealand Initiative suggests that high housing prices in our cities are the product of similarly place 'urban environmentalists'--rich and old greenies opposing new developments who already have their own spread, and several rental properties besides.
Report authors Michael Bassett and Luke Malpass argue that 'richer and older property owners with green agendas' who have managed to capture the planning process are responsible for an anti-growth atttitude 'that has suppressed house building and caused a housing affordability crisis.'
"Although a slim majority of New Zealanders now think rising house prices are undesirable," they say, "the current policy quagmire has created a situation where the interests of those who are lucky enough to own property are often opposed to the interests of non-owners."
The report -- Priced Out – How New Zealand Lost Its Housing Affordability -- looks at long-term trends in housing regulation and social situations, as well as the changing roles of local and central governments.
Bassett and Malpass said anti-development attitudes, tighter building regulations and artificial restrictions on land supply are responsible for New Zealand's new house building lagging household formation by at least 10,000 houses a year. They points out the number of new houses built dropped from a record 34,400 in 1974 to a little over 15,000 last year, despite the economy and population growing over that period.
Fear of ‘urban sprawl’ had resulted in urban limits and restrictive and prescriptive zoning, which had conferred a virtual monopoly market power on landowners near the city fringes, they said.
"Some of these attitudes reflect the rising discipline of urban planning: a discipline pregnant with questionable assumptions, some of which have proved to be self-defeating," they said.
"As New Zealand has become more prosperous, green agendas of more affluent New Zealanders have trumped traditional egalitarian social aspirations, such as suburban homeownership," they said.
“Although a slim majority of New Zealanders now think rising house prices are undesirable, the current policy quagmire has created a situation where the interests of those who are lucky enough to own property are often opposed to the interests of non-owners or younger people.”
NZ Initiative’s Executive Director Dr Oliver Hartwich said it was scandalous that ordinary New Zealanders were increasingly priced out of the housing market and housing affordability had to be restored to to improve social mobility.
Less than 1% of New Zealand is built upon even after including landfill and roads, Bassett and Malpass said. "Fears of ‘using up all our farmland’ are grossly exaggerated," they said in the report.
"Changing the face of the housing market will require political will and perseverance as well as overcoming a central part of New Zealand’s economy that sees investment in housing as a way, or indeed the best way, to make individual wealth," Bassett and Malpass said.
"We should remember that individuals can get wealthy off housing, but the country cannot."