January 25, 2022

Housing Reform: Why don’t we just go Kiwi?


Here’s the clearest explanation of what New Zealand has done to address housing need and affordability – in a remarkable bipartisan exercise in political consensus:

From Brookings:

In October 2021, New Zealand’s center-left Labour government announced the zoning reform to stimulate housing construction through redevelopment. The so-called “Medium Density Residential Standard” will require the country’s most populous cities to permit up to three stories and three dwellings on all existing residential parcels of land. The policy would allow a parcel with a detached single-family dwelling to be redeveloped into row houses or a small apartment block.

Both major parties supported the move:

Typically, a political party’s housing policies are criticized by the opposing party. However, the original announcement of the Medium Density Residential Standard in October was notable for being bipartisan. The minister for housing, Dr. Megan Woods, shared the podium with members of the opposition National Party when making the announcement, who made their own statements voicing their support. The bill was subsequently passed in December with bipartisan support.

Bipartisanship lends the zoning reform credibility. Policies to promote redevelopment and densification are often unpopular with local residents, which raises the possibility that the policy will be overturned after the next election. But the opposition party’s public support for the bill indicates that the law will remain in place even if it wins the next election in 2023.

MRDS is not the only reform:

The Medium Density Residential Standard comes on the heels of another national policy directive to encourage housing densification along public transit corridors. In 2020, the Labour government issued the National Policy Statement on Urban Development, which requires large cities to zone for residential structures of up to six stories within walking distance of rapid transit stations (approximately 800 meters, at the minimum recommendation).

Vancouver seems to be edging its way to similar reforms.  Now that New Zealand, a culturally similar country, has gone there, done that, should we just adopt their strategies?  Notably, it was the national government (similar in some respects to our provinces) that took the lead and did politically what is not likely to generate sufficient speed or consensus at the municipal level.

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  1. Of course we should do this, but we won’t. Anyone who proposes it will soon be out of a job. So long as elected officials fear the real or imaginary wrath of property owners more than aspiring property owners, this sensible move will live on as just another charming Kiwi quirk.

  2. NZ’s efforts are to be lauded. Having said that, we need to work with what we have: in Vancouver, 10x40m lots (mostly), lanes behind, very different climate than the more populous parts of NZ, etc. Various folks have done good work that is applicable in the Lower Mainland. The Mayor’s ‘Making Home’ does a disservice to all the hard work others have done, by glossing over the details. City staff have glossed over the details of way too much for way too long, which is why we are in the mess we are. Make it urgent but make it professional rather than political.

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