Tuesday, 25 June 2013

"The Shape of Affordability in the Modern City"

I've spent the last couple of days in the company of Nick Smith, Penny Hulse, Phil Twyford, and around 300 architects and planners at a conference with the above title.

I'll post later on some interesting observations from the conference--including comment on Phil Twyford's recognition that if the industry can't deliver houses at less than $300,000 each then the Labour Party's Kiwibuild policy "will quickly run out of money"--and on Penny Hulse's promise on the things the council must do to improve housing affordability, none of which involved land supply--but for now just let me share an observation made yesterday by an architect colleague, reinforced again in the opening remarks of the current presentation.

Essentially, the problem is this: it's unniversally recognised that a crisis of housing affordabilty exists, and here we are in a room of expert architects, planners and a developer or two to talk about solutions to the problem, yet every single expert presenter has said the only way they can deliver anything close to affordable is by having everyone involved donate their time.

So that's where the problem is at.

In just ten years or so, we have had dropped on us a system in which while the sale prices of houses has climbed, the delivery price of houses has rocketed--for all sorts of very bad reasons. So much so that to deliver affordable housing in the present context, simple ingenuity simply isn't enough.

In the words of Australian architect Eli Giannini, who's done plenty of award-winning "social housing" (and as she recognises, Australia shares many similar unaffordability problems to NZ), the way things are at present, it's not possible to deliver affordable housing by design, however cunning your design might be. "Affordability," she says, "can only be delivered through the policies of government."

Another way of saying that is this: Every "affordable housing" project delived at present is political. Not affordable.

Think about that.


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