I worry about the seemingly constant reference to greenfield development and opening up current city limits, in the debate over housing affordability. Another article just today concluded with that sentiment. And greenfield development seemed to be the foregone conclusion even at the outset of the Productivity Commission report last year. What are the other solutions?
Location Affects Housing Affordability
It’s probably true that 600 square metres of ground is going to cost less, further away from the centre of the city, than 600 square metres of ground nearer the centre of the city. Therefore, the total cost of building a new house is going to be less if you’re further out. But then what?
For the individual, there’s commuting for a start. And probably lots of it.
For the community, there’s everything that has to be built to support driving commuters. Because let’s face it, they probably will be driving commuters as opposed to rail or bus commuters in most instances. I am talking about Auckland here and also the current growth to the west of Christchurch.
Using more and more land to expand our cities is like exploiting more and more forest for farming. It’ll give a great financial return to the first movers, but will cost money to maintain and locks in an unsustainable monoculture.
What’s the Solution?
Enough of the problem. What are some solutions?
Here are some thoughts from me:
- Re-define the ‘lifestyle block’ with more emphasis on ‘lifestyle’, less on the size of the block. My lifestyle includes walking access to a train station, cafes, shops and a schools.
- Size really does matter. The more there is, there more there is to clean, paint, repair, insure… Our average floor size has been creeping up. How much floor area do we really need?
- Intergenerational and flexible housing options. Why is it so hard or scary to have more than one dwelling on a title? Having three generations living together makes a lot of sense and is very common in many of our cultures. But our planning rules make it very hard.
- Smaller streets. In the modern city, the car is king. Cars and people don’t really mix. People and people mix. In compact communities, there’s no place for lots of cars.
I’m sure there are more. For now though, we really need to think carefully about just how important the immediate price of buying a new home is.