The Future Of Housing And The Ballot Box
Housing has always been a major election issue. Sally Lindsay looks at what each of the major parties has to offer both investors and the housing sector in general.
1 October 2023
It’s election month and time to consider who we want in charge of the country ... and the housing market. There’s a lot of talk about buyers and sellers holding off from acting until after election night, and the implications of the policies of whoever holds the reins of power. Property investors will be particularly interested to see if anything changes around regulations: especially those thorny ones that have made life difficult for those in the sector.
We take a deep dive into the policies of the four main parties to see what they have to say about housing, and property investing in particular.
The current government has been criticised by property investors around their policies, including the removal of interest deductability and the extension of the bright-line test to 10 years. These policies will continue if labour get back into power, but they believe they have helped create a fairer property market for all.
It’s been a tumultuous few years for the Labour Government, with Covid-19, recession and the cost of living making governing extremely challenging. Also challenging (for property investors) has been the raft of regulatory changes the government has made during their time in power – such as Healthy Homes requirements, extension of the bright-line test, and the removal of interest deductibility on investment properties.
There may be more changes to come; the government says it will change the law (if needed) after Inland Revenue revealed thousands of Kiwis could be slapped with a 39 per cent capital gains tax following a new interpretation of the bright-line test extension.
Family homes and investment new builds were explicitly exempt from the tax, but a new IRD interpretation of the rules means anyone who spends 12 months or more away from their house – even if their family is still living there – will be taxed.
The Labour Government states it has had a focus on building houses. Their policy statement claims they have sped up house building through the Housing Acceleration Fund ($3.8 billion) that was formed to make it easier to develop new houses in areas of need. It continues by saying they are on track to deliver 18,000 public and transitional houses by 2024.
There has been another recent announcement, with Labour looking to get people moving towards green energy in their home. The party has promised to introduce a rebate pilot for homeowners who upgrade their homes to be warmer, drier and more energy efficient. This policy would provide: rebates of up to $18,000 for deep retrofit of an existing home; up to $7,000 for partial retrofits like double-glazing and insulation; and up to $3,000 for households who electrify and move off gas.
National intends to reverse many of the policies that labour put in place around property investment if they get into power. they also will be focusing on growth, with some plans for unlocking land for housing and requiring council to zone land for 30 years in advance. they also have a foreign buyer housing plan to fund tax cuts, which has been criticised by many.
National has been vocal in its intentions to reinstate tax deductibility on rental properties and restore the bright-line test back to two years.
The party has developed a growth plan, which includes unlocking land for housing. Councils in major towns and cities will be required to zone land for 30 years’ worth of housing demand immediately.
To go alongside, National claims it will reform the Infrastructure Funding and Financing (IFF) Act to reduce red tape for developers to fund infrastructure.
Combined with targeted rates to fund greenfield developments, this will remove the need for councils to fund greenfield infrastructure from their balance sheets.
It will also offer councils housing performance incentives (via the $1 billion Build-for-Growth fund) if they meet targets around new housing.
This will be funded by stopping existing programmes, like KiwiBuild.
The party says it will improve the rental market by unlocking the build-to-rent as an asset class and make changes to the tenancy laws to incentivise landlords into the market. The Resource Management Act is also in National’s sights; it plans to reform and simplify planning rules and make resource consents for houses cheaper and faster.
They are also proposing to allow foreign buyers back into the market for property that cost over $2 million. These buyers will be taxed 15 per cent on sales price, and according to their calculations, it will bring in around $740 million in income that will be used to fund tax cuts. This policy has been criticised, with some claiming the $5 billion worth of property that needs to be sold to achieve the goals is unrealistic.
ACT has some ambitious plans around housing that they hope will encourage the creation of more homes in the country.
ACT is in line with National on reversing Labour’s interest deductibility change, but it will abolish the bright-line test completely. It says its focus must be on easier planning rules and smarter infrastructure funding. They also have a plan to share 50 per cent of GST revenue from new residential building with councils. The party says they will scrap the Resource Management Act and replace it with separate Environmental Protection and Urban Development acts. The Urban Development Act will be based on the recommendations of the Productivity Commission’s Better Urban Planning report.
It will restrict the right to object to neighbours who are directly affected by any projects; allow neighbourhoods to vote to exempt themselves from many planning rules; create a new Planning Tribunal to determine compensation for affected neighbours who hold out from negotiations to loosen planning rules; and reduce the need for consents when infrastructure projects use a code of practice to manage environmental effects. They claim this will save billions of dollars and reduce years of delay.
ACT believes these changes will dramatically reduce the cost of building new homes and the infrastructure required to support them, while still protecting the interests of direct neighbours.
Councils will also be removed from the building consent and inspection business and ACT will introduce mandatory private insurance for new housing. A state-owned Infrastructure Corporation will be established to own, manage, and expand the government’s infrastructure assets.
ACT say they will “take the politics out of infrastructure” and get central and local government working together through 30-year infrastructure partnerships. Revenue and responsibility will be devolved to regional governments and the private sector, while strengthening accountability and oversight from central government. The party says central government can afford, but can’t plan, infrastructure, and local government can plan, but has little revenue. It will also make it easier for investors from OECD countries to invest in infrastructure. Reform of building materials regulations will be made to automatically approve building products approved by high-quality regulators in similar jurisdictions.
The Greens are committed to renters’ rights and toughening rules around rental properties.
The Greens focus is on improving the rights of renters and propose a Renters’ Rights Bill, to be introduced in the first 100 days of a new government.
The bill will include rent controls, which will limit rent increases to 3 per cent – the upper limit of the Reserve Bank’s inflation target. Landlords will not be allowed to raise rents beyond this unless they have made substantial improvements to the property. The controls will also be property based rather than tenancy based, to prevent landlords putting up the rent between tenants.
They also plan to introduce a Rental Warrant of Fitness, which will guarantee all rental homes are safe, warm and healthy to live in, the party says. They propose the introduction of a national register of landlords and property managers, to keep track of how many properties are rented, ownership of properties, how much rent is charged over time, and compliance with the Rental Warrant of Fitness. It also has plans for more affordable, accessible and environmentally friendly homes in the places where people want to live.
A government-backed underwrite will ensure community providers build new rental homes to provide long-term affordable rental and shared ownership housing. And an acceleration of the public building programme will ensure people living on the lowest incomes have a warm, safe home. They will improve Healthy Homes Standards, extending temperature requirements to bedrooms and narrowing exemptions.
It will expand government support for first-home buyers through shared equity and progressive home ownership schemes, and low-interest government-backed loans. With government support, people who bought their first home in the past four years and are at risk of hardship due to interest rate increases will be able to refinance their mortgages.
Development bonuses will be introduced to provide an extra one-third height allowance beyond underlying planning provisions, for buildings that meet high standards of energy efficiency and accessibility. Greens will enable a value uplift levy on land close to rapid public transport links, to recognise the increase in land value from public transport investment.
Kainga Ora’s building programme will be significantly scaled up and it will be required to implement a partnership approach with iwi and hapu for development of housing in their rohe. The party will also provide supported housing for people with complex needs experiencing homelessness, with quick pathways to a long-term home.
Candidates Face Off In Big Housing Debate
Policies may differ, but it was clear every party member wanted a fairer market when they addressed Tauranga property investors.
Political debates can be fiery affairs – candidates shouting over each other, messages drowned out by ego. But apart from a slightly few hairy moments, the Tauranga Property Investors’ Association political evening on September 11 was a (comparatively) civilised affair.
It was a full house at the Tauranga Yacht and Power Boat Club (standing room only), with Andrew Nicol and Ed McKnight, of Opes Partners, officiating.
Labour, National and ACT sent representatives to tell association members and guests about their housing policies. NZ First was meant to show but didn’t, providing written feedback instead. The Green Party declined.
Policies differed but it was clear each party member had the same motivation – to create a fairer housing market for all. Here’s a precis of what each had to say.
Clockwise from left Cameron Luxton, ACT; Naisi Chen, Labour; Tama Potaka, ACT. Photography by Olly Dow.
Cameron Luxton, Act
A self-employed builder and former dairy farmer, Luxton is number 11 on the party list. He is standing for Bay of Plenty.
He’s found “red tape” an unnecessary evil during his career, and says the divisiveness around housing, and other issues, is creating huge tension. ACT’s policies, he says, are an offshoot of listening to what people are saying and trying to put in place new solutions.
Luxton outlined several proposals ACT has developed around housing. One key policy centres on property development and building more houses.
“Why aren’t councils approving the building of houses?” Luxton asked. He explained that every development involves using rates for the provision of new infrastructure and this was a disincentive for the approval of new houses and subdivisions.
“Our proposal is to share 50 per cent of GST gathered during the building and development of new housing with council. Councils that consent more, get more. This will provide a huge incentive for councils to fast-track developments.”
Another proposal covers building materials. ACT’s private insurance model means builders can forgo the slow council consent process and use private insurance to ensure building materials are high quality.
“This is already happening overseas,” he says. “It allows developers and builders to import products from offshore that have been found fit for use in other countries and have them underwritten by private insurance. The insurance is attached to the house: when the builder leaves the insurance stays. It allows for much faster construction and more cost-effective building.”
Housing is a core foundation of human life, says Luxton. “But it’s not a human right, we have way too many of those.
“You can’t establish a family, or invest in a building, if you don’t have faith in your housing,” he says.
“We have to get housing right. These are big issues: lack of housing throws up all sorts of social problems. Young people are losing hope, and we need to incentivise those who are trying to speed up the process [of creating a better housing market].”
Naisi Chen, Labour
“I am a property investor … and I come from a family of property investors. At the dinner table a lot of the topics are around what we will discuss today. Being here is like coming to a family dinner.”
Chen may seem like an atypical Labour MP. But as she explains, Labour is committed to creating “enough room for my generation [in the housing market]. For those who rent, those who want to buy their first home. To create a housing model that is fair for everyone.”
She agrees that adequate housing stock is the key. “That’s why Labour gear everything towards new builds. That’s why we keep the bright-line test and offer interest deductibility on new builds. It’s to incentivise developers and property investors towards purchasing new builds.”
While she says she would have “gone out and fought for a wealth tax” she doesn’t think “a tax would save the market”.
“Increasing housing supply is one of the biggest leavers you can pull – it lowers the price, increases economic prosperity.”
Housing developments need roads, bus lanes and bus stops, and Labour’s infrastructure fund has been set up for this. They will work with developers to create infrastructure in new housing areas, drawing on the $6 billion fund.
When discussing Labour’s “wins” she referred to the mass development of public housing, the largest since the 1950s.
“Having social housing available for those the most in need takes out a piece of the rental market, one the government look after,” she says. “This leaves the rest of the [rental] property market available for people like you, those who want to provide housing for people who rent.”
She explains that the removal of interest deductibility, was designed to “even the playing field” for first home buyers. Investors had a huge advantage over first home buyers as they knew the interest on their investment could be claimed as an expense. This created an unfair advantage when bidding on the same property.
Tama Potaka, National
“The economy is broken. Rents are up $180 since six years ago. Inflation and interest rates have run off to the Te Rapa racecourse. We have massive crime and law and order issues; so many people are homeless. The health services and education, broken.”
Tama Potaka is the MP for Hamilton West. He says the country is in a sorry state, and the National Party, with its “key values of strong families, strong communities” can get it back on track.
Potaka is National’s social housing spokesperson. He says emergency housing is in crisis, with thousands living in motels, and millions spent each year. “National want to get the housing system working more for families and to move those in need out of emergency housing. And we need to turn a number of little dials to make things change.”
The biggest challenge, he says, is a lack of growth mindset in council. The zoning laws need to be fixed, and the roading network improved.
“If you don’t get big infrastructure in place, you can never get the type of housing growth you need. Councils need to be working out zoning plans 30 years ahead.”
National has a commitment to roading, bringing back the Roads of National Significance programme. “This improved infrastructure will do a lot to encourage faster development of housing.”
He points to Auckland’s rural urban boundary as an example of how arbitrary zoning can create artificial land values.
“Properties are worth ‘x’ on one side of the boundary and ‘3x’ on the other side. If we don’t get the housing price issues fixed now it makes it impossible for the future.”
Potaka says ACT’s GST sharing idea is “great” and supported by National. They have also made a commitment to the staged return of interest deductibility, and return of the two-year bright-line test.
On the foreign buyer policy, Potaka says the party has taken a lot of expert advice around the implications (and the growing scepticism that it will raise the revenue National expects) and believes the modelling is solid.