No one much thinks that either National or Labour-led governments are going to do anything serious about freeing up land use and markedly lowering house prices (and price to income ratios). A few individual figures in the two parties occasionally talk a good game, but their governments don’t do what is necessary to make a difference. All indications are that the parties don’t really care that much – sure, they seem to need to be seen to show a bit of concern from time to time, but affordable housing across the board seems to be rapidly becoming one of those things our political leaders would prefer people just forgot about. Get used to living in expensive dog-boxes on tiny sections or in apartments – all this in a country with abundant land.
Graeme Farr isn’t willing to give up. He’s launched House Club, a club and political party in one, designed to make affordable housing an option again. As the website puts it, the gist is
House Club does not want to change any of the crazy number of rules and regulations that affect housing – it just wants it’s own areas where none of them apply!
House Club creates its own “Club Zone” which is outside the RMA, the Building Act and council zoning rules and can have from 5 to 5,000+ houses.
Here is the fuller text on what a “Club Zone” is
A Club Zone is land where building does not have to comply to the RMA, the Building Act or local council zoning. This is nothing new – until the 1980’s the Government and its departments like the Post Office, Railways and Ministry of Works did not need to get building or resource consents for anything they built on Government owned land. In some US states such as Texas there are no town planning rules. This was the same in NZ until 1953 and the Town and Country Planning Act – yet houses build before this act are equally sought after and valued than later ones – often more so!
House Club decides solely on where a Club Zone is created. The land can be bought outright by House Club or it can award a group or private landowner a Club Zone – or a combination of both. Each Club Zone site can determine it’s own rules or convenants to suit its purpose, but these will need to be approved by House Club if it is not a partner or owner.
He is planning to have House Club become a registered political party – for which he needs at least 500 members ($3 for three years’ membership) – contesting the party vote in this year’s election, aiming for 5 per cent of the vote and the balance of power, with a single issue they’d be looking for action on. In concrete terms,
House Club will provide houses for UNDER $300K for a 100m2 three bedroom home on a proper section within 30 minutes drive of the centre of Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch and even closer in other cities and towns.
“Proper section”? Well, according to a Westpac survey last year, 90 per cent of New Zealanders wanted a backyard.
More generally on the House Club model
House Club will contain many Sub-Clubs who want to do their own thing – House Club55 for low cost seniors housing, Tiny House Club for tiny house villages, Eco House Club and Co-House Club for eco and co-housing schemes and Private House Club for selected private developers who want to provide low cost housing to Club members.
When Graeme first told me about this idea a few months ago it was in the context of retirement villages
1. I am thinking large scale ones – say 200 to 2000+ houses like they build in the US. They are super cheap there and most are freehold titles. I can send examples – you would not believe the prices they can achieve using economies of scale.
2. Dairy factories and timber mills are usually permitted activities in rural zones – so a retirement village will most likely have less affects
3. Retirement villages are better than standard fringe housing as they do not need things like jobs, schools, public transport, wastewater pipes, roads etc. Residents don’t travel at peak hours – they have their own buses. The councils do not need to provide infrastructure like a standard subdivision.
As I noted then, I couldn’t imagine wanting to live in such as village, but it is clear that lots of people do. And as the website indicates, the model generalises.
The vision is for developments of the fringes of existing cities/towns
Developing in the fringes is not only cheaper but faster too. If the density is kept low then the rural road network and infrastructure that exists around most cities will be sufficient for the intial Club Zones. Modern self contained wastewater plants can service the zones if trunk connections are not nearby. Freshwater and stormwater can be collected and disposed of on site if need be and most rural roads have a power network.
Do Club Zone houses need to comply to standards likeNZS3604?
A: No they don’t as long as they are only one or two storeys. There would be well over a million houses in NZ which come nowhere near to complying to standards like NZS3604 and you can legally buy these – often at very high prices. Builders will probably choose to use some standards as a selling feature but making them not compulsory means you can import a house kit or building materials from overseas without restriction. This undermines the local materials supply cartels which contribute to the very high building prices here.
Members buying in the Club Zones will accept they are paying much less for having a house which may contain building products which are not made in New Zealand or made to a ‘special’ NZ standard. Most imported mass production materials are made to adequate or better standards than we have here anyway. At present aluminium windows made for Australia do not comply to the NZ standard NZS4211:2008 – yet they have hurricanes in Australia. The current review of the Building Act will tighten importing rules – supported of course by the NZ Building Industry Federation who represent the local suppliers and manufacturers.
In other words, seeking to address both the land and construction cost elements of our current house prices.
And in a telling, if more lighthearted, response to a suggestion that there might be 2500 rules governing building a house
It is hard to add up all the rules and regulations the Government and councils have made for building a house but it is true pleasure craft in New Zealand need to comply to no construction rules at all, irrespective of size. You can build a 100 metre boat and unless you are using it for commercial use or charters there are no regulations at all – you can build it out of blotting paper if you like. This applies to around one million boats in New Zealand and could of course equally apply to basic housing.
There is even a, perhaps tongue in cheek, plastic bag policy.
It isn’t a first-best policy option by any means, but no significant party shows any sign of championing first-best reforms, and local governments are mostly the enemy of anything that would seriously liberalise market (the mayor of Wellington – sworn enemy of the backyard – is quoted on the front page of this morning’s paper talking of “if you can squeeze twice as many houses on the same land why wouldn’t you?” – this about privately owned land, for privately-owned houses).
But as a second-best option I think it has a lot going for it and, at very least, deserves some serious scrutiny and debate. I don’t need a house myself, but I’ve just signed up (to support a good cause rather than deciding, at this stage, to vote for them). I don’t suppose it is likely House Club will get to 5 per cent – it is hard – but it would be much better, for members and for wider New Zealand, if they did manage to do so, or even if they just managed to put some more pressure on National and Labour to take seriously the plight of our younger generation – including my kids 10 years or less hence – for whom the elite message seems to be that home ownership is for the especially fortunate, the abnormally determined etc, not a normal and everyday part of life for people across the economic spectrum.
Here, again, is the link to the website.