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Dunne Speaks: Kiwibuild Straight Out of the Blackadder

Kiwibuild is beginning to look more and more like no more than one of Edmund Blackadder’s cunning plans. While this week’s controversy about the couple getting the first Kiwibuild home is nothing like the drama National is making it out to be, it is nevertheless just another example of the policy’s shifting sands.

It is worth recalling that in its election policy just one year ago Labour promised that it would “build 100,000 high quality affordable homes over 10 years”. The policy went on to talk about curbing homelessness through building affordable homes in the $350-450,000 price range. The implication was unambiguous - Labour’s approach was going to be far more activist than National, and Kiwibuild would be Its primary policy to deal with homelessness and the housing crisis.

The not unreasonable belief consequently emerged that Labour would get on top of the housing crisis, in a way that National never could. Given the general view of the time that National had let the housing crisis get well away from them, without too many ideas of how to resolve it, Kiwibuild began to look as though it might just be the fresh approach needed.

How different things look one year later. So far, just 18 Kiwibuild homes have been built, and another 447 are on track for completion by July 2019, leaving a shortfall of 535 on its first year 1,000 homes target. Put another way, a first year achievement rate of just under 47%. And there has been a subtle but clear rewrite of the Kiwibuild objective. According to the Kiwibuild website, the objective is now the much more passive one to “deliver 100,000 homes for first home buyers over the next decade”.

So, no longer will the government build “100,000 high quality affordable homes”. And no longer does “affordable” mean $350-450,000, but $650,000. Moreover, now the plan is merely to “deliver” 100,000 homes, which, in the best Blackadder fashion, means accumulating all the new homes already being built over the next ten years by the private sector anyway, and dressing them up as Kiwibuild homes. And by introducing the new qualifier of “homes for first home buyers” the government can better tailor its plans to fit with what the building companies are currently doing anyway, and market it all under the Kiwibuild label. Any suggestion that Kiwibuild will mean 100,000 more houses being built than might otherwise be the case has long since vanished. All that is happening is that existing plans are being branded under the Kiwibuild label, which is win-win for both the government and the industry.

Therefore, in reality Kiwibuild is a very clever strategy of the government doing very little, but making it look like a lot, and all the while being able to milk many photo opportunities for Ministers as the still uncommon achievement of each house being completed happens.

Meanwhile, the homeless Labour was so concerned about in the lead up to last year’s election remain homeless, with not much apparently being done to meet their needs. A specific initiative is the Sweat Equity programme, but it is only available for 6,400 homes, and is unlikely to be sufficient to house the many homeless families Labour used to focus its attention on. In addition, over the next four years the government is planning to increase the public housing stock by a net 1,000 over the total projected under the previous government last year, likely to still be less than the total number currently on housing waiting lists.

Mind you, given its own record on housing is hardly one to crow about, National is not going to be taken seriously on this issue for a while yet, making some of its current criticisms a little hard to take. The public memory is not that short. So, despite the criticisms, the benefit of the credibility doubt still lies with Labour - just.

Nevertheless, when the marketing awards are next given out Kiwibuild deserves first prize as a cunning plan, well marketed, but delivering very little and changing not very much, while all the time leaving people feeling good about the government’s warmth and kindness. Not even Blackadder and Baldrick in their heyday could ever have been as devious.


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