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The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Phil Twyford

On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Phil Twyford [Corrected]
Housing Spokesperson Phil Twyford says Labour would purchase private land if necessary for its Kiwibuild programme.
Twyford can’t name specific sites for its 100,000 houses, but says “we’re going to build large urban development projects, many of them around the railway network in Auckland. So places like Henderson, Manukau, Mt Wellington, Onehunga, Panmure, Avondale.”

Lisa Owen: When the government announced plans this week to build tens of thousands more homes in Auckland, including affordable and social housing, Labour hit back, calling the policy a poor version of its own KiwiBuild. We asked the social housing minister, Amy Adams, to come on the programme this morning, but she was unavailable. So Labour’s housing spokesman, Phil Twyford, joins me now. Well, they’ve just taken the wind out of your sails, haven’t they, with that policy?
Phil Twyford: Well, not at all, Lisa. This is a huge let-down, this policy announcement by the government, for first-home buyers, young Kiwi families who are desperate to get into a home of their own. This government’s been in office for nine years. They’ve denied there’s a housing crisis every year. It’s got worse every year. And now 160 days out from an election, they put out a press release talking about building some houses. It has no credibility.
Are you really going to sit there and say that increasing housing stocks — 34,000 houses announced — are you going to say that increasing housing stock is a bad thing, seriously?
So they announced this week 2000 extra ‘affordable’ houses that they say are affordable. 2000. Lisa, we’re going to build 100,000 affordable homes over 10 years.
That’s not true. Amy Adams said a minimum of 20% and up to 50% of the housing announced will be affordable.
She said 20%. That works out at something like 4500 houses over 10 years.
Up to 50%.
They’ve already built half of those, so there’s only 2000 new ones in the announcement. They say they’ve been working on this proposal for two years, but she can’t say exactly how many of them are affordable.
Well, she has. She said up to 50% will be affordable.
Yeah, but she’s only willing to guarantee 20%, and their record in this area is appalling. Take the Hobsonville development.
I want to get to Hobsonville in a minute, but I want to look at this first. The government says 650,000 is affordable. Now, that’s $350,000 cheaper than the average house price in Auckland. Can you really do better than that?
But is 650,000 affordable? You know, that’s the definition of affordability, and the reason they use it is because that’s the threshold for people who get a HomeStart subsidy. By definition, if they need a government subsidy to buy a $650,000 house, I don’t think it is affordable. So we can do much better than that, and that’s why with KiwiBuild homes, we’re going to be delivering townhouses, flats and apartments for under $500,000. With KiwiBuild, we’ll deliver in Auckland a stand-alone, modest but beautifully designed and constructed home for under $600,000.
All right. I want to get to your KiwiBuild policy soon, but the Hobsonville development is an example of what the government considers a successful mixed housing zone. It wants to expand on that. I mean, is there any evidence to the contrary that it’s not as great as they say it is? Because it looks good.
Well, I think Hobsonville’s been a success commercially and design-wise, but it demonstrates that National’s approach when it comes to affordability and helping first-home buyers is pretty hopeless. Fewer than 20% of the homes at Hobsonville are affordable by the government’s own definition. Almost half of them cost over $1 million.
Well, hang on. I’ve got an email here from the chief executive of that project that tells us 23% of the homes of the 1000 homes that have been built there were valued at less than 550,000. 16% — an additional 16% — under 650,000. So quick maths — 39% of the 1000 homes out there fall into the category of affordable.
If you look at the values of those properties at Hobsonville now, significantly less than 20% are affordable now, and—
Well, this is the prices that they were bought for. That’s more important, isn’t it? So 39% of them were affordable.
Well, my understanding is that only 20% of the homes at Hobsonville are affordable. Half of those have been sold on the open market and snapped up by speculators.
Well, hang on, Mr Twyford. That’s not true, because that project has forced three speculators or investors to return houses after it was discovered that they were purchasing them. So they are policing this.
That’s only half of the so-called affordable homes that are sold. The other half were sold on the open market to anyone, and you have to assume half of the houses that are sold in Auckland that are being sold now are being snapped up by speculators. Why should Hobsonville be any different?
Isn’t that how you pay for the affordable houses, though? That’s how you make it palatable for developers, and it’s how we afford to have houses at cheaper prices for people in need of them.
Well, our criticism, Lisa, of Hobsonville is that they’ve taken a multibillion-dollar development of prime publicly owned land. The first thing National did was strip out all of the state housing, because it said that allowing low-income families to live there would be economic vandalism. The number of affordable houses is far too low. We need affordable homes for first-home buyers.
Let’s move on to what your solution is, which is KiwiBuild. You’ve already said that freestanding houses will be 600,000 or less. And where exactly are these 100,000 houses going?
So, Lisa, we don’t have a land shortage in New Zealand. Fewer than 1% of the land is urbanised. We have a highly restrictive planning system that chokes off the supply of new land. Labour’s going to free up those controls and allow cities to grow up and out.
So where specifically? Where specifically? Because as you pointed out, we’re four months from an election. Where’s the list from Labour which shows exactly where the houses go? Like this list from National, which shows me exactly which suburbs and how many houses. Where’s your list?
So, we’re going to build large urban development projects, many of them around the railway network in Auckland. So places like Henderson, Manukau, Mt Wellington, Onehunga, Panmure, Avondale.
Have you got the sites specifically identified?
Actually, Auckland Council’s already done much of the work on this. Their development agency, Panuku, has already identified all of those sites as being appropriate for development. Lisa, we’re also going to developments on the fringes of the city as well.
Amy Adams says that they are using, in this plan, basically all the available Crown land, so I’m struggling to understand where your land is that you’re going to build 100,000 houses on and why I haven’t yet seen… Because this policy of yours is, what, four and a half years old?
So here’s where Labour’s approach is different from National. National lacks ambition in this area. Their approach is confined to knocking down state houses and building private houses on that land. We are going to take a much broader, more productive approach, so—
So have you got a list of lots, of land lots, that you can give to us so we can have a look at it? Have you got that?
We are going to work with the council, we are going to work with Ngati Whatua, we’re going to work with other investors. And if necessary, we will buy private land to develop.
Okay, and what budget are you putting aside for that?
We’ve committed $2 billion to kick-start KiwiBuild, and we’re going to establish an affordable housing authority that will act as an urban development agency.
So that $2 billion of seeding money, are you telling us that that’s going to pay for the first wave of houses and all the commercially bought land that you’re going to have to buy?
Well, we haven’t identified exactly how much land we will buy, but we are going to establish an affordable housing authority—
Isn’t that the problem, Mr Twyford? Isn’t that the problem, though — the details?
Hang on, Lisa, you’ve asked me a question. Let me answer and I will give you an answer. We’re establishing an affordable housing authority that will cut through the red tape. We’ll put capital in to get it started, but it’s going to manage the Crown’s entire urban land holdings. It will use that balance sheet to buy land and develop land with other partners. So it’s a very different approach to what the government is saying.
So, who is going to build your 10,000 houses a year? Because we know that there’s a shortage of workers in the construction industry. So who’s going to build these?
So, call us old-fashioned, but we think it’s the job of the government to grow a New Zealand workforce of skilled tradespeople. So we’re going to massively increase the training for the construction trades and professions. That’s our priority. Now, the fact that National—
That takes time, doesn’t it? And you are aiming to build 10,000 houses a year. The apprenticeship industry tells us that we need 60,000 new workers over the next five years, and half of them need to be tradies. So come December 24th, who’s— September 24th, who’s building these houses?
Look, so National has completely failed to build the New Zealand workforce. They haven’t invested in the apprentices and the professions to do this work. Now, if we have to, we will rely on skilled tradespeople. We’ll bring in electricians, plumbers and carpenters from overseas if we have to.
Despite your policy of tightening up immigration.
Well, Lisa, the reason it’s called an immigration policy is we get to choose who comes here. So we will choose the electricians, the plumbers and the carpenters instead of bringing people to this country to flip burgers and pump gas.
We’re going to have to leave it there. Nice to talk to you this morning.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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