The Auckland housing crisis: The case for intensification

In 2015 Auckland joined a select group of international cities voted the world’s most livable, ranking ninth in a report by The Economist. The results showed Auckland's increasing levels of desirability across a number of areas such as lifestyle, safety and schooling however availability of quality apartments was not one of them.

To meet Auckland’s current housing shortfall we need 40,000 new homes and that's just to catch up. We then need 10,000 to 12,000 homes per year for the next 20 to 40 years!

So how do we meet this need? 'Go out' say the NIMBY’s. 'Go up' say the property council. Do both say the media.

Going out is hugely expensive with massive amenity costs involved in the creation of water, sewage, power and infrastructure and all that does is further choke our motorways. With the exception of isolated specific smart developments such as Hobsonville which has existing access to transport links and is being built in a sustainable way, going out is not a viable option.

To deal with affordability issues and the voracious demand for housing, our city needs high-quality intensification. Like every other international city, we need to get Aucklanders on board with apartment living and move past the now unreachable quarter acre Kiwi dream to a new model of ‘right sized’ living.

In the last five decades our average home size has doubled. We’ve gone from 120m2 in the 1960s to 240m2 in the 2010’s with our home layouts now second only to Australia’s, yet, on a day-to-day basis, we use only 40% of our living space.

‘Right-sizing’ offers an answer not only to our housing affordability woes but also to a better way of living. By working out how much space you really need and spending your money on quality not quantity in a neighbourhood that has the right amenities for the way you live you can reduce your living costs and improve your quality of life.

We need to go up and we have to go up a lot faster than we currently are. And to do that we need the Auckland City Council to come to the party and work alongside residential developers to create a continuing cycle of growth with a fast-tracked consent process for residential developers building quality developments with good amenities.

Time-poor Kiwis living in high maintenance houses with a long commute to work could improve their stress levels and find themselves hundreds of hours a year by making the move to apartment living.

It’s been 12 years since I moved from a large villa to an apartment and I’ve never looked back. I live a very efficient life. I can lock up and leave my apartment at a moment’s notice. I never have to worry about fixing my spouting, mowing my lawns or painting the house. That frees up a lot of time and energy.

Right-sizing doesn’t have to mean lowering your quality of living. So why aren’t there more high quality apartments being built? The issue is residential development is risky and expensive. There is still a perception that development of land is a path to easy riches but this is not the case. Property cycles mean that one development with perfect timing makes 20% profit but many developments barely break even and the media is littered with failed developers.

The consenting process remains a significant hurdle for development projects and tends to be very long and slow with a variety of issues throughout. The complexity of the urban planning process alone can often be an insurmountable barrier to entry into the development market. Other issues like the power given to neighbours to stop or prolong development approvals is an unintended consequence of the RMA process and is why the Government is looking at RMA reform, which I wholeheartedly support.

The Special Housing Area process, whilst not being as fast as we would have liked, did provide for a remarkably improved consenting process and experience, allowing better dialogue between the development and the Council, but there is still room for a considerable improvement.

We need to go up and we have to go up a lot faster than we currently are. And to do that we need the Auckland City Council to come to the party and work alongside residential developers to create a continuing cycle of growth with a fast-tracked consent process for residential developers building quality developments with good amenities.

Quality intensification is a key part of the solution to Auckland’s housing issues and the council need to recognize this so that we can get more Kiwi’s to embrace ‘right-sized’ living in new style apartments which are warm, waterproof, secure and conveniently located next to transport routes and close to parks, entertainment, shops and workplaces.

John Harman, is the man behind St Marks, a new residential development in Remuera, and an advocate for high-quality intensification in Auckland.