Kiwibuild - Should we blame Phil?

It’s no secret that Kiwibuild hasn’t been working for Kiwis, and that was made clear when Urban Development and Transport and Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford was stripped of the Housing portfolio last week.

Twyford was responsible during the 2017 election for an aggressive campaign against National’s efforts towards affordable housing in New Zealand, only to fail himself at his goal of 100,000 new houses in a decade.

But is it all Twyford’s fault? Arguably the Labour-NZ First administration is the government of “all hui, no do-ey” (i.e. lots of talk, no action), and the Kiwibuild saga has been a perfect example of that- Let’s take a pragmatic, Quantity Surveyors approach to unpack what’s happened.

Local Government needs to take some of the blame in the housing crisis. Housing infrastructure isn’t actually the responsibility of national-level Government because it is more than just creating jobs and ensuring capable building materials.

For housing projects to actually be a success, capital investment in transport, water, earthworks, and other infrastructure is required. That’s the job of local Government, e.g. Christchurch City Council. It’s a combined effort between them and private investors to see action.  

However, it was the Government’s job to find someone to invest in all this major infrastructure and then pass this onto local Government. This would have been Twyford’s role, but he relied on Auckland Council, and Christchurch, Wellington, Hamilton, Tauranga, Queenstown city councils to solve the problem.

A classic case of blame-shifting where nobody takes responsibility and something as major as laying the foundations for 100,000 new properties simply can’t happen. The infrastructure just isn’t there.

Why haven’t local Government stepped up to the plate, you ask? Because, by and large, the people in need of affordable housing don’t actually vote in local Government elections. This means their needs are not represented because they’re not the constituency that keeps a mayor and their staff in power.

Local government only has one revenue tool, too: rates. While the Government can control all tax collection and expenditure to achieve certain objectives, rates are dictated by proportionality of a city’s running costs, paid by existing homeowners. Renters – the people who need affordable houses most – have no financial stake in the running of local Government and thus less implicit power.  

Kiwibuild was therefore destined to fail from the beginning and Twyford and company should have known it. It wasn’t anything more than an election promise: trick young voters in need of affordable housing during a General Election, never informing them that it is actually local Government they need to change.