Housing: what would the market do?

My post last week about the Wellington City Council’s consultation meeting, on its proposals to amend the district plan to allow more medium-density housing in Island Bay, attracted some attention and a range of interesting and thoughtful comments.  Readers seem to have taken from the post what they wanted (those opposed to more density focused on the critical comments about the Council’s case, those in favour on the critical comments on the residents and the planner mentality that dominates the Council).   Perhaps that reflects my own ambivalence.  In general, I favour allowing greater flexibility to property owners, but I don’t think we  would see much pressure for the sorts of development that concerns many residents, at least beyond the immediate fringes of the central city (Thorndon, Mt Victoria, Kelburn etc) if councils did not continually and actively resist the expansion of the physical footprint of cities.

It perhaps also reflected the fact that I’m not overly affected personally.  We are probably 12 minutes walk from the “town centre”, not the rather arbitrarily-chosen 5 or 10 that the Council focused on.  If a slightly largely population increased the chances of the convenient neighbourhood supermarket surviving into the years of my dotage, so much the better.   And it would be almost impossible for any conceivable development to materially impair either our sun or our views.

However, there is no point pretending that the sentiments of residents are just illegitimate or misguided.  Or that what happens elsewhere in their neighbourhood cannot impinge on their wellbeing. Nor do I favour riding roughshod over the concerns –  in fact, on a city or countrywide basis it is just not going to happen.  As I’ve pointed out previously, I’m not aware of any examples anywhere where tight land use restrictions, once put in place, have been substantially unwound.

Perhaps as importantly, the  private marketplace itself has mechanisms to deal with the sort of issues and concerns that drive the vocal residents of Island Bay or Khandallah, at least in respect of new developments.

As the Productivity Commission’s recent land supply report noted

Restrictive covenants in new subdivisions are a very common feature of property developments in New Zealand.  The mayor of one fast-growing New Zealand city told the Commission that all subdivisions in their area were subject to detailed covenants.

And according to one source I looked at, around 55 million Americans now live in “homeowner association” complexes –  some mix of apartment blocks and suburban developments/gated communities etc.    These arrangements  presumably exist because they meet a demand, and hence enable developments to occur more profitably than otherwise.  They add value to the people’s homes.    They are not just a legacy of centuries gone by, but have become much much more popular in the last few decades (at a time when local authority planning restrictions have also become more onerous).

I’m no expert in these sorts of arrangements.  As the Commission notes, in some cases they just last until all the homes in a particular development have been built (ie they govern what is first put on the section, and nothing subsequent to that), but many others are permanent.  The rules are often very detailed –  the example the Commission cites particularly caught my eye when it specified the details of the size and construction of the letterbox.  The focus is clearly intended to be on collective action provisions that limit the possibility that some future action of a neighbour might impair the value of my property.

I wouldn’t want to live in such a tightly restricted subdivision myself.  As one succinct summary put it, they aren’t the place for people who don’t like being told what to do.

The Productivity Commission seemed rather ambivalent about these covenants.  They had three “findings” and one “recommendation”.  One was arguably just a factual statement

Covenants established in new subdivisions are increasingly common and impose detailed restrictions on purchasers.

although that could easily have been reworded to include the phrase “provide considerable protections, and impose detailed restrictions on, purchasers”.  That is, after all, what contracts do in all areas of life.

The Commission finds that

regulatory controls on covenants should reflect both the costs and benefits of covenants

which is fair enough perhaps, but fails to recognise that these are already a market solution to a revealed demand.  Market contracts might reasonably be assumed to have internalised the costs and benefits already.  The case for regulation isn’t really made.

The Commission also notes that

Covenants reduce the flexibility of land use now and in the future, and increase the cost of constructing dwellings.

Of course, the first part of the sentence is true, but really the point of these voluntary contracts.  Voluntary contracts exist to enhance welfare.  Flexibility is not an unalloyed good.  The second point is unsupported in the report –  all it seems to amount to is that buyer and sellers have voluntarily agreed that, as a condition of buying in that development, they will not use certain lower end building materials. Why is that a public policy issue?  It does not detract from the ability of other people to build using those materials and technologies.  And each covenanted development presumably has to survive the market test, in competition with other covenanted developments, and standalone dwellings (new or existing).

Consistent with the uneasiness that pervades the discussion, the Commission then recommends (page 118) that

The Ministries of Justice and of Business, Innovation, and Employment should review the legislative provisions governing covenants with a view to:

  • reducing the proportion of landowners required to agree to covenant changes from all to a super-majority; and
  • introducing a statutory sunset period on restrictive covenants of 25-30 years.
I don’t have a particular problem with super-majorities (they are not uncommon in other collective action areas, eg bondholders dealing with distressed debtor).  But, equally, nothing stops such contracts developing voluntarily, and it isn’t clear what the Commission sees the problem as being.  Nor is it clear how the Commission would minimise the risk of abuses of minorities.  Perhaps, at minimum, any super-majority would have to be prepared to offer to purchase the property of an aggrieved minority at a price which reflected the assessed benefit of the changed provisions to the majority.
More egregious is the suggestion of mandatory sunset clauses, effectively banning private property owners from voluntary collective action solutions for more than, say, 25 or 30 years (and as property will trade on the basis of expected future use, even the value of a 25 year covenant will start to decay pretty quickly after, say, 15 years or so).  Again, what is the public policy interest that should override the freedom of homeowners to enter voluntarily into contracts?   The Commission cites one jurisdiction in which the term of covenants is statutorily limited (Ontario, at 40 years), and one example (Massachusetts) where after 30 years covenants can be renewed for 20 years at a time.  But it appears that the rest of the 55 million Americans living in such developments are free to establish permanent covenants, which can generally only be dissolved by unanimous agreement.

The Productivity Commission is uneasy about these increasingly widespread private contracts.  But I wonder if we shouldn’t think about moving in the opposite direction.  Why not facilitate covenants of a sort in existing neighbourhoods?  Is there any obvious reason why, say 1000 households in Island Bay or Khandallah should not be able to  mutually agree that only, say, the current planning rules will apply to their sections in perpetuity, with perhaps a 75 per cent majority required to change those rules in future?  I can’t think of one.  I guess one can argue that the developers, and purchasers, in 1890 should have envisaged these issues and established the covenants then.  But, actually, the then borough had only 600 rateable properties, and if they have given the matter any thought the residents might reasonably have assumed they had effective control through the ballot box.    When Councils pick off one suburb at a time –  as opposed, say, to amending the district plan to allow more medium-density housing everywhere in the city –  effective control through the ballot box is much attenuated.  Which suburb has the “misfortune” (from the aggrieved residents’ perspective) to be chosen for medium-density housing, is no longer a matter of collective agreement among affected residents, but of who can lobby the most effectively and  shift the issue onto some other suburb.  That isn’t the market at work.

I’m not sure what the current legal position is.  Perhaps local property owners could already put in place such restrictive covenants now, with the consent of every one of those involved?    But why not consider amending the relevant legislation to provide for a standard set of rules that a group of homeowners could voluntarily adopt, by say, a 90 per cent initial majority of those in the area concerned?    That would empower homeowners (you would presumably vote for change when the increased value of your land, under rules allowing more intensification outweighs the risks of loss of sun, views or the “changing character of the neighbourhood”).  And it would remove the arbitrariness that exists in the current law.  I’m not suggesting giving legal force to an ability to force your number to mow his or her lawns, or get rid of the gaudy letterbox, but it would enable communities to “protect” themselves (mutually agreeing to entrench existing planning laws for their own properties)  –  or to remove those protections themselves to take advantage of new opportunities –  at a level that existing planning legislation often attempts to do, until it doesn’t (ie until some distant planner or councillor suddenly decides it is time for change).

Perhaps the grand houses that once filled The Terrace might once have been subject to such covenants.  Such houses are probably not the best used of that land today.  Owners would be free to recognise that opportunity, but to do so collectively.

Half of me thinks this is a second-best suggestion, but so widespread are such covenants in private developments here and abroad that I’m not even sure that is true.

Of course, the quid pro quo for such an amendment –  which would, at the margin, probably slow any process of intensification of a particular neighbourhood that might otherwise take place –  would have to be legislative provisions that removed the  ability of councils to restrict the physical expansion of cities and towns.  If, say, all land was automatically zoned residential (in addition to any other approved uses it might have)  and, as a default, was able to be built on to a height of two storeys, there would be ample scope for population pressures –  themselves largely now the consequence of policy choices – to be met with new building on new sites.

From voters’ perspectives, such a bundle of changes look as though it ticks most boxes.  It allows much more new peripheral development more cheaply than occurs now [1].  That, in turn, would remove some of the artificial pressure for intensification  –  arising from councils directly, and from the market because councils restrict the physical expansion of cities.  And, at the same time, it recognises a right for local communities, at a much lower level than whole cities (or even whole wards), to collectively make decisions about the nature of future potential land use changes for their properties.  Since such contracts are increasingly widespread in new developments here and abroad, they seem to reflect real pressures that have real economic value to citizens as property owners.

There is no real, or necessary, tension between keeping housing affordable and allowing property owners to act collectively, in response to opportunities (costs and benefits) to make decisions as to how their land is able to be used.

[1] And, yes, pricing the infrastructure and transport connection issues still has to be resolved.

33 thoughts on “Housing: what would the market do?

  1. “Is there any obvious reason why, say 1000 households in Island Bay or Khandallah should not be able to mutually agree that only, say, the current planning rules will apply to their sections in perpetuity, with perhaps a 75 per cent majority required to change those rules in future?”

    Some might say that this is sort of what a district plan does, with the numbers shuffled around (the rules exist until their is democratic pressure from the majority of the community to change them).

    This is how academics like William Fischel conceive of zoning – as a collective property right managed through a democratic process, with the owners of the collective property right (the existing town residents), attempting to maximize land value, and minimize risk (with too much risk aversion due to underdiversification one reason Fischel thinks zoning is likely to be inefficient).

    In that framework, zoning competes with covenants on a transaction cost basis to be the optimal system.

    Zoning has bureaucratic transaction costs, but covenants have market transaction costs.

    I don’t know which is better.

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  2. Yes, that is a good way of putting it. Market developments seem to find these things optimal on a rather smaller scale than modern local authority plans, which is partly why I suggested 1000 households. When local authorities were smaller – as in my 1888 example, but think of Kawerau District or the old One Tree Hill, Ellerslie or Newmarket boroughs, perhaps there was effective community control at more like the size/span we see in these homeowner associations or (locally) covenanted developments. Bite-sized chunks (1000 households, say) also keeps a degree of competition in the process, which is lost in large city-wide plans (especially given the continual bureaucratic push for amalgamation – which may offer gains in the provisions of some services).

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  3. Restrictive covenants on greenfield sub-divisions are of course imposed by a developer – not the potential homeowners. From a developer’s perspective, they serve to inflate the land value of a section – thus improving margins on sale, in the same way that developers typically release such sections in a staged manner; it is a supply restraint mechanism used to retain the inflated land value throughout the period over which the entire parcel of land is developed.

    In simple terms, develop a small neighbourhood closest to the road artery first; require very large, flash houses to be built – wait for them to be built before moving on to stage two. The initial homeowners of stage 1 retain the high land value for your next release by giving the neighbourhood an exclusive/high priced look and feel.

    New build homeowners buy in to these covenants mainly because nearly all new sub-divisions these days (well the ones I’m familiar with anyway) have them – the only alternate choice for a stand-alone new build is in-fill or undeveloped sections in established neighbourhoods. And because the entry price of the newly subdivided land is so high (even though many of the greenfield sites are on the urban fringes/employment periphery) and the build costs are also inflated beyond what they might have otherwise chosen to build due to the specification requirements of the restrictions on the type of dwelling they can build – the covenant serves to stifle innovations in affordability/affordable design. Monopitch and prefab homes being some of the prime examples of affordable design elements that are restricted by many of these covenants.

    Naturally, the new homeowners will react vehemently to protect the value of their assets;
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/69607255/controversial-travis-country-prefab-house-on-the-move

    This statement from another article on that situation is an interesting one – which should give pause for thought; “My wife and I . . . when we bought in that subdivision we sacrificed a lot,” neighbour Richie Parker said this week. “We knew what covenants were in place and we went without a lot of things . . . when we built… “If they bought it for the purpose of them living there for the next 10 years and they’re going to be great neighbours . . . fantastic. My concerns are if they buy it and it becomes a rental.”

    To me restrictive covenants are like own-your-own-zones for developers. Certainly not in line with a freedom to build aspiration/mechanism. Instead, they move us toward less diversity and greater segregation by perceived wealth/income. For some of course, segregation is a good thing as they fear, perhaps for their safety, but perhaps even more so for their capital.

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  4. Thanks Katharine. Useful perspectives. But of course if through some mix of more liberal zoning and changes in the rating system, land use were less restricted on the periphery we would presumably see a wider mix of new-build type subdivisions (I think that is the PC argument). And even now, no one has to live in one of these places.

    Do you have much sense of how many subdivisions have covenants applying only til the last section is built on, and how many are perpetual? The PC report didn’t give any indication of that mix.

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    • The question regarding covenants is an interesting one – but no, my only experience is anecdotal. What is interesting however is that I seem to have seen more recently (perhaps since some attention to the issue by the PC?), the withdrawal from websites of the publication of such covenants and design guides on those websites.

      See for example, Ngai Tahu development at Wigram – this page carries the following note;
      http://wigramskies.co.nz/price-list?for=matangi-neighbourhood&sold=0&tmpl=component

      Note: “In each case the purchaser should refer to the covenants and design guidelines available at wigramskies.co.nz for any restrictions or alterations to these general rules.”

      But if you go to the website as stated and search for either the covenant document or the design guide – I can’t find them (whereas I did find them about 6 months ago). So I can only assume they have been removed for a reason?

      You are right, more liberal zoning (meaning to my mind no zoning – aside from no-build areas set aside for biodiversity and/or open space/conservation value protections) would likely serve to significantly lower land prices and perhaps create more choice (i.e., less restricted covenants). But, as per my contribution on an earlier thread, I think true market mechanisms/incentives (and dis-incentives) by way of taxation might be even more useful. Presently, developers pay a lot of such “tax” by way of Development Contributions – which to me is a double-whammy on the greenfield homeowner in a new sub-division on the outer fringes. If property tax were paid based on the efficient use of land in close proximity to centres of employment, then the need for all this zoning/sub-zoning/precinct planning etc. would just be totally unnecessary and all the nimby arguments would disappear overnight.

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      • Not sure how this property tax would work.

        1. Viewshaft height limits, get tax deduction
        2. Kauri Tree or native on site, get tax deduction
        3. Pre 1944 demolition control, get tax deduction
        4. 100 years old heritage tag, get tax deduction
        5. stream up close subject to Queens chain, get tax deduction
        6. sloping section, get tax deduction
        7. road frontage below 25 meters get tax deduction

        Sounds nigh impossible to manage.

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      • ggs, as mentioned on another thread – geographic information systems are extremely powerful database tools. I get the impression from your enthusiastic objection, that indeed tax incentives and disincentives are highly likely to work :-).

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      • Not likely to work but can be a double edge sword. More legislation, higher taxes and higher interest rates can be a real pain. I do hobby development myself to maximise rents and this one house development has taken close to 3 years from subdivision planning, resource consenting and building consenting, drainage completed and now finally getting the house relocated to the cleared site. So far $100k spent and still no house.

        I console myself by telling myself it is perfectly fine. The longer it takes the less supply and the higher prices. And sure enough when I first started the initial drawings 3 years ago after purchasing the neighbouring property in 2011(4 years ago), 3 bedrooms on 570sqm for $300k in Mt Roskill, allowing for a separate site under Res 6A, the current valuation on completion is $760k.

        But my interest in developent is mainly providing rental accomodation to fund my retirement so I do not need higher prices. So when I see tax policy that does not work I must have an opinion otherwise we get nonsense results from nonsense solutions.

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      • For interest, here’s a covenant for the Millwater development;

        http://www.millwater.co.nz/downloads/Seaview%207B%20P4s2%20restrictive%20and%20accessway%20covenants.pdf

        Must build at least a 216m2 house (including a must-have double garage) on a 600m2 section. No garden sheds visible from the road allowed.

        It’s one of the reasons that if you drive down the streets of many of these new subdivisions – that no one parks the cars in the garage, because the garages are mainly used for storage :-).

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      • If Council planners can

        1. remove the 25 meter road frontage,
        2. remove the pre 1944 demolition controls on heritage sites
        3. remove the 3 metre distance from neighbours boundaries, level !&2 and the 5 meter distance from neighbours boundaries level 3&4
        4. remove viewshaft height limits that has cut off level 5&6

        in a Otahuhu location in a Special Housing Zone Area or the Mixed Housing – Apartments under the Unitary Plan, I can guarantee I will start building as it would then have sufficient economies of scale to make a small profit margin.

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  5. I just don’t see how liberalising land use restrictions and zoning will lead to more development on the periphery. If we let the market decide, as everyone advocates, we would ask developers where they would most like to build. Surely, given their primary goal is maximising profit, they will want to build where they can sell quickly, easily and for a high profit. That would surely be in affluent, ‘hot property’ locations. Given that build costs are relatively stable, they will just get so much more bang for buck from building anything in Khandallah than a ‘new’ city fringe area. They can also be certain of the infrastructure being already established and an automatic selling point: school, shops, PT links etc.

    But…the last thing politicians (especially on the right) want to be seen to be doing is allowing development in such areas, for obvious electoral reasons! So you get the risible ‘intervention’ of a Nat MP at a Khandallah consultation meeting, trashing a proposed project which developers – the free market – are keen on.

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    • It is not a matter of where developers would most like to build, but where they can most profitably build. If peripheral land were all zoned residential (and subject to land value rating) the price of that land could be expected to fall towards the value of agricultural land in that area (not much in Wgtn, quite a lot in Te Puke). That would encourage purchasers to seek new houses on the periphery, and owners of the land would be keen to get rid of it. Prices in town and on the periphery would fall markedly in the process.

      Yes, people might like Khandallah’s amenities, but the same issues faced the people who opted for the new subdivisions in the Hutt Valley or Tawa in the 1950s (when land use was much less restricted).

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      • We can build wherever as long as there is sensible infrastructure to move people from point A to point B. At the moment travel time from Takapuna to Otahuhu in peak traffic is almost 2 hours drive.

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  6. Michael, you are missing 1/2 the point. Covenants provide severe restrictions on the ability to densify land use. It is not all about peripheral growth.
    No covenants – yes I can do what I like with my land but it should not extend to restrictions on other land owners.
    No zoning – mitigate, remedy or avoid the adverse effects instead (this was the whole intent of the RMA which has been turned into 60+ plans full or specific rules)
    If I can mitigate, remedy or avoid the adverse effects by combining two+ land titles and redevelop at higher density no zoning rule or covenant should stop me.

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  7. Remember that covenants are also on properties to protect environmental, habitat and Maori values. For example in high density kiwi areas no cats and dogs covenants to protect kiwi. Or fencing off or not developing important sites to Maori.

    The idea that such covenants should expire in 25-30 years is just stupid. They need to in perpetuity.

    By the way I don’t see a lot of discussion about accessibility issues with development of urban peripheral areas ( or of other infrastructure like schools or hospitals for that matter). Relying on cars, as so often is required with urban peripheral development is a dead end street given what we need to do to address climate change.

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    • On peripheries, remember that Manukau or Lower Hutt were once distant peripheries, and have their own schools, hospital etc. Doesn’t happen overnight, but then neither does the development. In Wgtn’s case – tho not Akld’s – there isn’t that much population growth anyway, so land liberalisation would be likely to bring prices down without that much actual new building at the periphery.

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      • Supply of residential land still has to be within the context of a local authority plan — to ensure efficient development of the necessary supporting infrastructure (which includes sewage, water, public and private transport, libraries, schools, shops, etc), development that doesn’t unnecessarily destroy natural habitat values and culturally important sites, addresses natural hazard ricks, and plans for climate change. Within these planned areas financial incentives to develop could be appropriate to encourage development of a type and rate.

        Also there are varying levels of geographic constraint that explain a lot more of land pricing differentials (and why land is cheap in places like Houston) than some seem to think — see for example http://transportblog.co.nz/2015/11/09/geography-and-housing-supply-dynamics/

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      • You are more optimistic about the potential of planning than I am. I’m always very uneasy about the idea of “efficient development of infrastructure” – the same logic can be used by others to suggest we should only have one supermarket not two per suburb (technically might only need one) or that supermarkets should be open only a limited number of hours/days per week (would almost certainly show as more “efficient”).

        I’m not persuaded by the geography story. There is a much stronger link between high house prices and the tightness of land use controls, and altho there is a literature suggesting that land use controls are themselves endogenous to geography, I haven’t seen that literature extended internationally (to encompass, say, London). Geography has been a feature for a long time, and real house prices have become a major issue only in the last 25 years. ALso, as I’ve noted here previously, geographical constraints should both lead to a sharp differentiation between the value of land at the centre and at the periphery (which we don’t see in Akld – peripheral land is still extremely expensive) and an evolution of commercial and employment centres to reflect the geography, where the workers are etc.

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  8. Yes, it probably does sound a bit as tho I’m recanting my usual market orientation. And perhaps I am, but it is about recognising that collective action is a pretty normal party of life, and (in this case) something that happens in the market. In addition, of course, collective action is going to happen anyway, thru the political process, so why not formalise it, and push control down to the very local level, to the people who face the costs and benefits of their own choices.

    I’m not suggesting external restrictions on other people’s land, but that if communities by an overwhelming majority (I suggested 90%) agreed to such a covenant for their own land, what role should the state have in stopping them? It would be interesting to know whether many communities could actually get that sort of majority for a covenant of the sort I suggest. If not, that in itself would be revealing.

    In some respects, the situation we are in is the outcome of widely dispersed land holdings. After all, in some of those luxury squares in central London the same effect – a private covenant – is achieved thru a single landowner owning all the properties, and residents only have leases. That overcomes the collective action problem and issues around externalities, and I can’t imagine anyone objecting to it as a solution.

    I guess my bottom line is that the main – perhaps sole – obstacle to affordable housing in NZ is the reluctance of councils to allow the physical footprint of cities to grow. The Productivity Commission did not make that point strongly enough. If there were no restriction on outward movement, there would be very little debate about densifying suburbs, little interest in doing so, and the choices of communities (if there are overwhelming majorities) can be respected.

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    • I still think that even if you get a 90% agreement from a community that they don’t want more development, it’s a bit like a 90% agreement from an incumbent alliance of manufacturers that the government shouldn’t permit a new manufacturer to start up: it’s a license cartel by any other name. Right now the only avenue for future potential residents to ‘vote’ in land supply decisions is via the market price – and when one of those incumbent residents is sufficiently compelled by a very high price to trade their mansion for cash – then this is apparently outlawed via a collective decision. And the sum total effect of that market price is a transfer of wealth from the new entrants to the incumbents via inflated property prices.

      Without representation from those residents in that ‘collective decision’, it’s pretty meaningless. If existing residents want to lock out new entrants via restrictive new clauses which obviously come at a price to the wider market, then they should have to buy those rights from the market at a price which reflects their value.

      It’s also a non starter from an infrastructure point of view (depending on how that footnote is understood and applied). This means that the wealthy suburbs, with existing infrastructure built and paid for by the state a century ago, get to lock out new entrants who are compelled to pay up front and in full for new developments.

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      • Agree. Which is why I like the idea of using tax incentives as the means to gain efficiency in land use. Do we all agree that the most efficient use of residential land near centres of employment is for multi-unit dwellings? So, if living in a multi-unit dwelling within walking/cycling distance to major employers/work environments (usually a CBD), then land tax paid on that dwelling is low to zero. Whereas if you want to remain in a detached house on an 800m2 section in that same area, the land tax is high.

        We normally use price as the means to determine the most efficient use of a resource, but this doesn’t work for land use in urban areas because the mechanism of price simply leads to gentrification, as opposed to most efficient use. Queenstown found this when they had to start busing in the hospitality workers from smaller Central Otago towns up to 2 hours away. All while a substantial percentage of residential properties near the CBD remain vacant as holiday homes for out-of-town owners.

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      • But the very areas that you want multilevel developments ie, Mt Eden, Epsom, Mt Roskill, One tree hill, Onehunga are all subject to Viewshaft height restrictions ie 10 to 15 meters height limits. The recent 2 bedroom apartments on development being offered are upwards from $700k plus.

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  9. Learning much about the quirks of housing supply but wanted to ask if access to new supply is ‘fair’ between those who demand it: do existing property investors have an ‘inside’ advantage to the purchase of new housing developments relative to ‘outsiders’ by virtue of historical financial liberalisation and interest rate declines which, in part, have fuelled capital gains that can be leveraged for further property acquisition? Is access to capital even across the population and/or between generations? I was prompted by KM’s post above re supply issues possibly leading to “…less diversity and greater segregation by perceived wealth/income”. Granted, leveraged investors are taking on risk but the return leg is perhaps the dominant one – at least in recent years/decades….

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  10. Lots of questions there, and no time to answer the right now. But just a quick point: don’t blame financial liberalisation and low interest rates for high house prices. Across vast swathes of the US Midwest, incl some fast growing cities, they haven’t had any trend increase in real house prices in the last 15 years (no pre 00 boom, or subsequent bust). The main difference is the absence of the sort of land use controls that NZ, Aus, UK and many of the (very expensive) coastal US cities have. One can debate what role geography might play in Auckland – one of my commenters frequently does – but there are no natural geographical constraints in Hamilton (or really in London for that matter).

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    • Cheers Michael, will think on. Perhaps restricted supply combined with financial liberalisation is a better way to put it – per the PC report: “….knowledge that development will be limited to certain locations may reinforce expectations among investors of a scarce supply of land for housing and resulting future capital gains”

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    • Different city different solutions. I look at Auckland and I can rationalise price increases but yes, restrictive land policies do play a major part especially in viewshaft height restrictions due to political pandering to scared mounts of Maori heritage. I look at Hamilton and Christchurch and I see a artificial price bubble due to restrictive land and zero geographical limtations. Different horses for different courses.

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  11. Most of the arguments seem to be made on the assumption that homeowners live in the house they own. Given the high degree of tenanted houses in some areas the propensity to develop ghettos of high-density rental properties to the detriment of homeowners living in such areas is a concern.

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  12. yes, I did see it, and almost broke my resolve not to post for a few weeks. I had a lot of sympathy for his perspective which (as I guess you recognize) is not totally out of line from the sorts of ideas I expressed in the post you were commenting on.

    I have bookmarked the Interfluidity piece and might come back to it in more detail in January. I think these are discussions we need to be having in NZ – my own reconciliation is to emphasise the ability to build outwards, which enables people in existing suburbs to protect their interests, or allow development, without making housing unaffordable across whole cities.

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    • Another question: did you go to the lecture at VUW on the economics of earthquakes? One of the points he made when he compared a few places was that it may be better to rebuild/repair “as is”, even on ground subject to liquefaction, as the problems of coordination in new build may make recovery much slower? The evidence is suggestive rather than compelling, but certainly aids the case of considering surburbs as complex systems.

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      • I didn’t go, but I find Ilan very stimulating and the story sounds plausible (and especially when the repeat time on earthquakes like the Canterbury ones is something like 2000 years). Of course, it might be hard to persuade insurance companies,

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