Treating symptoms is not a cure

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 3 June 2016

Auckland’s housing crisis produces some strange side effects. One of them is that the word ‘boarding school’ might acquire a new meaning.

Previously, boarding schools were schools that provided their students’ accommodation. But now that teachers are struggling to find affordable housing, at least one school is trying to organise accommodation for its teachers.

Newspapers reported this week that Macleans College is in the process of buying million-dollar houses it can then let, at a subsidised rate, to its teachers.

Secondary school teachers earn somewhere between $46,000 and $75,000 on average, so they are effectively priced out of Auckland where the average house value now stands at $955,793.

A school buying houses for its teachers is only the latest in housing market quick fixes. Last week, Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett presented a plan to pay social housing tenants $5000 to leave Auckland.

Ironically, this is a premium paid by the very same government that is prepared to pay beneficiaries $3000 to move to cities such as Auckland for work. Let’s just hope that no-one turns this into an $8,000 round trip.

But why stop at schemes to pay people to move or subsidise their accommodation? Maybe it is time to rethink living completely, boarding school style?

It is only fitting that car brand MINI recently entered the housing debate with a few proposals. For a start, if house prices remain maxi then house sizes will need to become mini. And MINI has ample experience of cramming people into small spaces.

At this year’s Salone di Mobile furniture show in Milan, MINI presented a concept apartment. Surprisingly, it’s not about sleeping in their cars.

In beautiful marketing language, they described it as follows: “A chic bedroom and bathroom remained exclusive, while other sections of the home embraced the implicit energy in shared space.” Which is to say that people may only be able to afford a bedroom with an ensuite. They can cook, entertain or work elsewhere.

The MINI idea followed furniture giant IKEA’s presentation at last year’s show which proposed combining kitchens and children’s rooms. The new multi-purpose room could then be used for cooking, washing and playing.

Unfortunately both the MINI and IKEA concepts might fall short of Auckland Council’s minimum apartment size standards. But at least there is no shortage of ingenious ideas for the housing crisis.

I prefer a simple one, though: Build more homes. And build them now.