Auckland housing shortage solution left to mayor

10:43 am on 12 March 2018

Analysis - And then there was just one multi-sector housing group trying to tackle Auckland's shortage.

Housing strategist Leonie Freeman has pulled the plug on her 19-month philanthropic bid for an independent body to set, monitor and deliver on home-building targets.

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Attendees at the latest gathering of the Auckland Mayor's Housing Taskforce. Photo: Supplied / Auckland Mayor's Office

What appeared to be a second public snub from the office of the mayor Phil Goff, has prompted Ms Freeman to wish him well with his own taskforce which he describes as the key forum on the issue.

The move has ended an awkward stand-off that began within weeks of Mr Goff's October 2016 election.

Mr Goff rejected a request from Ms Freeman, made earlier to Auckland Council to help fund the group, instead swiftly setting up his own taskforce on the issue.

His tongue-in-cheek hope that it would cost "no more than a morning tea and a couple of muffins" had passed the $50,000 mark mid-last year.

Ms Freeman's group continued, with a couple of well-attended industry forums, and a database she puts at 500 to 600.

Leonie Freeman (right) and Phil Twyford (left) at the launch of the housing group.

Leonie Freeman (right) and Housing Minister Phil Twyford (left) at the launch of the housing group. Photo: RNZ / Nikki Mandow

A thaw in the chilly relations seemed likely as recently as a month ago when deputy mayor Bill Cashmore was sent to speak at the group's forum, and later told RNZ the mayor's taskforce might merge with it.

"There are so many similarities they'll merge in part or in whole - there are a few differences but not many."

The apparent change of heart didn't seem to last beyond a meeting the following day when Mr Cashmore sat down with the mayor, and Housing Minister Phil Twyford.

The mayor's office later told RNZ, nothing had changed in the relationship.

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Auckland Mayor Phil Goff flanked by Building and Construction Minister Jenny Salesa, and Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford. Photo: Supplied / Auckland Mayor's office

Last week, Mr Goff's taskforce met again, with a lengthy press release declaring it to be the key forum for housing affordability and supply, and hailing the government's co-operation.

The mayor told RNZ there'd be no merging with Ms Freeman's group.

"I think the desire of the taskforce itself and the players in the taskforce is to keep it pretty much as it is, Mr Goff said.

Ms Freeman has decided to let the mayor lead the charge if that's his wish.

"I think that's great, and it's good to see one of the sector groups show leadership," she told RNZ.

"What we need to to do is to get in behind that and see results because we have to have an absolutely

uncompromising focus on delivery."

"Delivery" remains the mountain which those aiming to solve Auckland's housing shortage, have yet to climb.

The long-used figure of the city being 40,000 homes short is probably conservative, as it has been used through years in which the build-rate was less than half the 14,000 required.

In 2017, 7900 homes were completed, and building consents - the short-medium term pipeline of what's coming are flat-lining just about 10,000, with talk of a softening new home market.

In an interview with RNZ, Mr Goff recited a string of statistics about the government's plans for a ramp-up of affordable and social housing in Auckland, and the taskforce's role in enabling that.

Less clear was the role the taskforce could have in the foreseeable future in accelerating the output of the private sector which currently builds most of the almost 8000 a year homes in Auckland.

Mayoral taskforce members RNZ has spoken to since it was formed early last year, have been politely positive about it, but circumspect in their expectations that it will make a tangible difference.

Of the 17 who attended last weeks meeting, nine were from the council or government, seven from private sector builders, developers and a bank, and one community housing developer.

Mr Goff's challenge will be to show that it can do more than simply be an Auckland project office for the government's KiwiBuild programme.

KiwiBuild is years away from being in full-swing, and won't on its own solve the city's shortage.

The mayor said its success would be measured by the number of new homes built, the number of affordable and social homes.

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