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Housing

by Ben Schrader

The first European settlers lived in Māori-style whare or simple cottages made from raupō (reeds) and flax or supplejack and clay. As more settlers arrived, British-style villas and cottages were built, mainly from wood. Most were individual houses on their own sections, and the ‘quarter-acre dream’ became a New Zealand ideal. In the 2000s sections were smaller, but people still preferred single-detached houses.


The first houses

Whare-style houses

Most of the first European settlers in New Zealand were sealers, whalers and traders, who usually lived in or near Māori settlements. Their houses were either traditional whare or small, gabled cottages. These were built with raupō (reeds) and flax over a wooden frame, or had wattled hurdle walls (supplejack covered in clay) and a thatched roof. A large chimney was placed on one end or side of the house; small windows with wooden shutters were punched in the walls. The multi-purpose nature of these houses, where occupants slept, ate and socialised, distinguished them from Māori whare, which had prescribed functions according to type.

First prefab

New Zealand’s first prefabricated house was a gift from New South Wales Governor Philip Gidley King to Te Pahi following the Ngāpuhi chief’s visit to Sydney. It was erected on an island in the Bay of Islands in 1806. The house was later destroyed by whalers in retribution for the 1809 Māori attack on the ship Boyd.

European-style houses

Missionaries led the way in building European-style dwellings, in part to showcase European civilisation to Māori. These included the Kerikeri mission house, New Zealand’s oldest surviving dwelling in the 2000s. Erected in 1821–22 by missionary carpenters and Māori sawyers, the symmetrical timber building was of a fashionable Georgian design with a hipped, shingled roof and weatherboard cladding.

Other early houses were prefabricated wooden structures that were shipped from Australia or Britain and assembled on-site. Among these was the Treaty House at Waitangi. Made of Australian hardwoods and designed in the Georgian style by the New South Wales colonial architect, it was erected on an elevated position for the British Resident, James Busby, in 1833–34. The largest prefabricated dwelling was Government House in Auckland. The single-storey structure comprised a suite of formal rooms and government offices as well as the governor’s living quarters. Erected in the government precinct above Auckland in late 1840, the building was consumed by fire in 1848.

Temporary housing

In the 1840s the first immigrants often had to live under canvas or in makeshift shelters while sites for towns were decided and houses built or prefabricated ones assembled. In Wellington and other settlements, immigrants often built temporary houses or engaged Māori to build raupō and timber cottages, at times using imported windows and doors. These houses were cheap, warm and easy to construct. A distinctive temporary dwelling in Canterbury was the V hut, a gabled (upside-down V) structure with a door and windows at one end and a thatched roof.

A cosy home

After weeks of living in a tent in Auckland’s Official Bay, New Zealand’s first surveyor general, Felton Mathew, employed Māori to build a two-roomed raupō house for him and his wife, Sarah. Sarah thought it was a better ‘habitation than a tent, especially in wet or windy weather.’ The Mathews bought doors and windows from a carpenter. For glass they used oiled calico, ‘which kept out the rain and gave us light enough within, tho’ of course no view.’1

Regulations

A major problem with raupō and thatched houses was their flammability. Such was the perceived risk to townscapes and life that in 1842 the colonial government passed the Raupo Houses Ordinance – New Zealand’s first building regulation. It levied a £20 annual rating on any building constructed of raupō, nīkau and other grasses, or a £100 fine for new buildings in such materials. It was first applied to Auckland, but following a series of disastrous fires in Wellington, it and other towns followed suit. Further building controls determining such things as the dimensions of building timber followed.

Footnotes
    • Diary of Mrs Felton Mathew, qMS-1350, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Back

Housing types

Single-detached housing

The plentiful supply of land in New Zealand and a British-inherited cultural preference for individual houses on their own allotments has meant the majority of houses built in New Zealand have been single-detached dwellings. Most 19th-century towns were laid out on a grid plan, where land was divided into rectangular sections. The house was sited towards the front of the fenced section, leaving space behind for a yard, garden and family play. The houses of the rich were bigger and more opulent. They featured servants’ quarters and were usually on larger sections.

As towns became cities, pressure on residential land increased because, before public transport, all but the rich had to walk to workplaces. Land was subdivided into ever-smaller sections, resulting in houses that were close together and lacked natural light. The rise of cheap public transport, and, later, cars, in the early 20th century resolved this problem by providing ready access to new supplies of land at city edges. The ideal New Zealand dwelling became a two- or three-bedroom, single-detached house on a quarter-acre (0.1-hectare) suburban section.

Increasing demand for suburban land in large cities and a rising preference for smaller, less maintenance-intensive sections meant the quarter-acre-section ideal faded in the late 20th century. This change did not diminish demand for single-detached houses and in the 2010s they were by far the most popular housing type.

Two or one?

The 1930s state-housing programme supported the New Zealand ideal of suburban single-detached housing, and the first rental dwellings were all of this type. But as the cost of the programme grew the state began building cheaper, one-storey semi-detached houses, disguised to look like detached dwellings, often by using an asymmetrical elevation. Few people were fooled.

Semi-detached housing

Medium-density housing was at first spurned by New Zealanders. In part it symbolised the congestion and, in some cases, the squalor of British housing. However, some semi-detached (‘semis’) and terrace housing was built in the main cities from the 1880s as land supplies tightened. Semis are two-dwelling units, where the units share a common (or party) wall but each have their own section. Most of the first semis were symmetrically designed and two-storey to maximise space. During the 1930s semis returned in state-housing schemes. Since the later 20th century developers have often erected semis to make greater use of land, calling them town houses to avoid past negative connotations.

Terrace housing

Terrace housing, comprising three or more dwelling units in a row block, was virtually unknown in early New Zealand. Colonial Dunedin had some terrace housing, mostly two-storey and constructed of brick or masonry. During the 1950s and 1960s, mainly wooden terrace housing was built under state-housing schemes to reduce housing provision costs. Since the late 20th century, terrace housing has featured heavily in urban consolidation projects (aimed at raising housing densities), particularly in Auckland.

Multiple meanings

A town house is often represented as a distinct housing type. But it can refer to a number of types of dwelling: single-detached, semi-detached and even terrace housing. The common feature appears to be a small section. Meanwhile, a flat can describe a dwelling unit in a block of flats or a subdivided house, but also a house-share living arrangement, where occupants refer to each other as flatmates.

Flats and apartments

Blocks of flats or apartments were associated with Old-World ills so none were built in colonial cities. This changed in the 1910s, when entrepreneurs began constructing flats in inner-city Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch for those who viewed flats as modern and urbane.

During the 1940s and 1950s the government built several blocks of state rental flats in Auckland and Wellington before returning to low-density, suburban housing provision.

The revival of inner-city living in the early 1990s saw a new spate of apartment building (the term ‘flat’ was by then considered low-end), mainly for students and professionals, who were attracted to urban life and culture. Apartment blocks also became a feature of resort towns like Queenstown.

Farmhouses and homesteads

Farmhouses and homesteads are single-detached dwellings, but are distinguished from their urban counterparts by their rural situation. Most are sited within a fenced and landscaped compound – similar to a section – that might or might not include other farm buildings. On large farms a farmhouse is called a homestead, and these are often grand in appearance and scale. In colonial society a homestead was defined as such if it was removed from the working men’s quarters and other farm buildings; otherwise it was called the ‘Big House’.

Baches, cribs and beach houses

These are single-detached holiday homes, usually situated beside coasts, rivers or lakes. In the past they were unpretentious, hut-like structures. As waterfront land prices escalated in the late 20th century they became larger, more brazen and less bach-like.


Style and form

In Victorian Britain, housing was ranked by style and size: from the mansions of the aristocratic elite to the villas of gentlemen landowners, and down to the cottages of the labouring poor. New Zealand never had houses on the scale of mansions. The large houses of the wealthy were more often known as ‘big houses’ or (in rural areas) homesteads.

Does size matter?

Cottages were graded according to size. The smallest houses were called ‘cottages’, the next step up were ‘superior cottages’ and the bigger still were ‘houses’, often further distinguished as ‘substantial’ or ‘of more pretentions’.

Cottages

The first houses were all cottages. They had a rectangular or square floor plan and a gabled or hipped roof. The smallest had one or two rooms, with a central door and double-hung or casement windows either side. These referenced no particular style but larger dwellings fell within the English colonial idiom, some of which sported Georgian or English regency features. Many houses were left unpainted, but those that were painted used stone-like hues – creams, fawns and greys – with corrugated-iron roofs painted in red oxide.

Villas

A villa was a suburban house that was larger (at least four or five rooms) and more expensive and ornate than a cottage. Villas usually featured two- or four-pane double-hung windows and could be built in Gothic or (neoclassical) Italianate styles.

From the 1870s bay windows became a feature of both cottages and villas, while machine moulding of wood provided for increased ornamentation. The villas of the affluent were not only bigger but often included highly decorative elements such as pressed metal ceilings and stained-glass windows. These windows provided a degree of domestic privacy while also showcasing the owner’s wealth and taste to guests and night-time passers-by. Most houses continued to be painted in stone-like hues with darker tones – particularly reds and greens – used for trim work.

Verandahs

Aside from the homes of the wealthy, few houses had verandahs until the 1860s, when they became a marked characteristic of New Zealand dwellings. As well as providing shelter from summer heat and winter rain, a verandah offered a place where muddy boots and sodden coats might be removed before going inside. It was extremely well-suited to local conditions, but became unfashionable with the ascent of 1930s English revival styles. Verandahs were revived in the neo-colonial houses of the 1970s and remained a feature of some 21st-century houses.

Californian bungalows

After the First World War the Californian bungalow superseded the villa. The style featured low-pitched gabled or hipped roofs, fanlight and casement windows, and at least one porch or verandah. The stud (ceiling height) was lower than that of the villa, saving construction costs and making the houses easier to heat. Bow windows and carrara (moulded decorative plaster) ceilings in a variety of designs were common attributes. Bungalows were often painted white or beige, with dark green or brown trim.

English revival

Many architects were dismissive of the bungalow’s American origins and chose English revival styles for their clients. These included arts and crafts, Georgian and English cottage styles. The last idiom became synonymous with the 1930s Labour government’s state-housing scheme, whose houses are still widely recognised by their 45-degree-pitch tiled roofs and three-pane casement windows.

Spanish mission and moderne

Another Californian import was the Spanish mission style. It featured arched entrances, stucco exteriors and ceramic half-drainpipes as decorative elements. Near-flat roofs were hidden behind parapets.

Let the sun shine in

With larger windows and the absence of overhanging eaves, the Spanish and modernistic styles were designed to let the sun enter interiors. An advertisement for a modernistic block of flats in Auckland declared: ‘Every living room has almost an entire wall of windows which fold back and leave wide, uninterrupted areas open to light and air, and to satisfy our thirst for sunshine.’1

The moderne style also included flatroof lines and stucco exteriors painted in white and pastel hues. Interior spaces often featured colourful art deco ornamentation. The fashion for health-inducing sunshine led to larger windows and made the sunrise motif a popular element in stained-glass windows.

Modernism

The modernist style was introduced from Europe in the 1930s. It eschewed ornamentation and promoted clean straight lines, large picture windows and glass doors to let in light and facilitate indoor–outdoor flow. Architects such as Vernon Brown worked to create a New Zealand version of the modernist style that referenced the simple forms of the shed. These houses featured creosoted weatherboards and white-painted trim.

Neo-colonial to Mediterranean styles

During the 1960s the neo-colonial style became fashionable. These houses featured cottage-like gabled roofs and finials (a tall, narrow projection at the top of the gable), spacious verandahs and exposed timber ceilings and floors. During the 1980s neo-colonialism gave way to post-modernism, which incorporated a diverse range of forms, colours and materials to create whimsical-looking houses. In the 1990s Mediterranean-style houses with flat roofs and minimal eaves were popular.

21st-century eclecticism

In the early 21st century no one style dominated housing design, with new houses reflecting classical, bungalow, modernist, Pacific and other influences. House colours continued to reflect changing fashions and taste; in the early 2010s the stone-like hues of the colonial period were popular.

Footnotes
    • ‘Cintra’, Building Today 1, no. 1 (1936), p. 2. Back

Interior planning and living

The interior planning of houses provides insights into how people experienced home life.

Cottage life

In 1850 James Parr described his Christchurch cottage. ‘It is lined with totara. …The ceiling is calico. The floor is white pine …In one corner of the kitchen we have two shelves to put our crocks on. Our garden is fenced in with galvanised wire and a cape broom hedge in front. The back is a native hedge. We have some cabbages, beans and peas in our garden beside 2 walnuts, 2 cherry trees & a plum.’1

Cottages

In a one-room cottage everything occurred in a single space: cooking, eating, socialising and sleeping. A bed might line one side of the room, with a table near the open fireplace, which was used for cooking and heating. Often perishables were hung from ceiling and wall hooks to protect them from rodents. A long-drop toilet was constructed in the garden. In a two-roomed cottage the second room became a bedroom. A four-roomed cottage would also have a separate kitchen. In most cases the front door opened into the parlour, which acted as a thoroughfare to the other rooms.

The kitchen was often the social hub of the house. This was partly because the cooking fire or range kept it warm, but also because the parlour was a formal living space. Cottages could easily be extended through lean-to additions or converting roof cavities into bedrooms.

Villas

The villa saw the introduction of a central hall, demarcating public from private spaces. The (public) parlour was at the front of the house, while the (private) bathroom was at the back. Some cottages also adopted this plan. With the introduction of sewerage systems in the 1890s, the long-drop was replaced by a back-of-the-house flush toilet. Open fires remained the main source of heat, and coal and wood were the most common fuels – the distinctive smell of coal or wood smoke was the scent of still winter evenings in most places.

Bungalows

The bungalow was more open-plan than the villa, with a spacious entry hall and double doors connecting living areas. The parlour became the (more relaxed) living room; the scullery became the kitchenette, equipped with modern conveniences such as electric cookers; and the bathroom moved from the back to the middle of the house, reflecting a greater cultural emphasis on hygiene.

Design and living

In 1947 the architect Ernst Plischke wrote the book Design and living. He strongly criticised the cramped and sunless living spaces of New Zealand houses. Plischke called for new (modernist) open-plan designs to create larger living spaces that were orientated towards the sun and garden. The book was innovative in questioning New Zealanders’ living arrangements and was influential in spreading modernist ideas to the general public.

Modernist houses

The state-house floor plan re-orientated the living room towards the sun; the days when the parlour or living room was routinely street-facing were over. The modernist house introduced open-plan living arrangements that integrated kitchen, dining and living areas, enabling housewives to be more involved in family life. The bedrooms, bathrooms and laundry remained private spaces. The modernist house was also characterised by built-in furniture that saved space and inhibited clutter. Plate-glass doors that opened onto patios and decks served a new enthusiasm for indoor–outdoor flow.

Innovations

The open plan became the template for houses thereafter, but innovations continued. From the 1950s the garage was incorporated into the house, signalling greater private car ownership rates and the idea that the car was an extension of domestic life. During the 1960s and 1970s a separate family or rumpus room for children’s play became fashionable.

Since the 1990s average house sizes have increased while section sizes have shrunk, reflecting the greater cost of residential land, the growing tendency for domestic life to be lived indoors, and demand for amenities such as en-suite bathrooms. With the rise of large televisions and gaming devices in the 2000s, some houses included media or entertainment rooms. One feature that has largely disappeared is the open fire, a casualty of clean-air legislation and householders’ preference for more efficient heating sources such as heat pumps.

The garden

The garden was a pivotal element in home life. The flower garden facing the street was for public display. The fenced and private back garden comprised a vegetable garden and perhaps a small orchard and chicken run, all of which made important contributions to household economies. It also had a lawn for recreation and often a shed where men could tinker and make things. The 21st-century fashion for smaller sections, and a growing householder preference to buy rather than grow fresh produce, has made the vegetable garden less common than it once was.

Footnotes
    • James Parr, letter to his parents, 26 August 1859, ‘James Parr’, qMS-1628, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Back

Construction and materials

House builders

Colonial houses were generally constructed individually by small firms for a client using a builder’s sketch or a pattern-book design. Sometimes a builder would buy a plot of land and construct a few houses as a speculation. Between 1892 and 1908 the Wellington builder Harry Crump built and sold 156 houses this way. Wealthier people often employed an architect to design, and manage the construction of, a house that reflected their individual needs.

Suburban expansion in the 1920s was a boon for house builders but few firms survived the onset of the 1930s economic depression. The creation of the government’s state-housing scheme in 1937 re-energised the sector and for the first time saw streets of houses being built at once. Under the 1950s Group Housing Scheme the government encouraged builders to construct new homes by pledging to buy those left unsold. This facilitated the creation of large private building companies that helped to build whole suburbs. Many provided ‘design and build’ services: clients chose a house from a pattern book and had it constructed on a section in a new or existing settlement. In 2012 individual builders and small firms were the industry’s mainstay.

Builders also extend and renovate existing houses, with some specialising in kitchen or bathroom renovations.

Ticky tacky boxes?

Overseas visitors have sometimes mocked New Zealand’s wooden houses, labelling them ‘ticky tacky boxes’ or worse. However, the suitability of wood as a building material was demonstrated during the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes, when most of the buildings that collapsed were made of materials other than wood.

Materials

In Britain dwellings built of stone, brick and other permanent materials carried higher social status than those erected of (impermanent) wood. Some settlers therefore built brick or stone houses or used wood fashioned to look like stone. Other houses were made of cob (clay and straw walls covered in plaster) or sod (sun-dried turf laid on edge to create walls). Most roofs were either thatch or wooden shingle. Large earthquakes in Wellington in 1848 and 1855 saw many non-wooden houses collapse. Most wooden houses survived, as wood flexes with movement. Earthquake risk and ample supplies of timber meant wood became the dominant house building material. Brick survived as a material for chimneys and cladding.

Corrugated iron became a popular roof and cladding material from the 1850s as it was cheap and fire-resistant. Plasterboard replaced scrim (coarse woven fabric) as a lining material from the early 1900s and was manufactured in New Zealand from 1927. During the 1920s concrete and concrete blocks provided a viable alternative to wood. From the 1940s walls comprising glass doors and windows became a feature of modernist houses.

Other new materials have included fibrolite (asbestos) and fibre-cement cladding. The first fell from favour in the 1970s when it was discovered asbestos fibres were carcinogenic. The second became linked to leaky-building syndrome in the early 2000s; experts showed it was prone to leaking if not properly installed. Sheet metal, or ceramic, metal or concrete tiles continued to be the main roofing material.

House warming

The timber-frame construction of houses provided little insulation other than weatherboards and linings between the inside and outside of dwellings. This made for freezing and damp interiors in winter. The solution was to heat and live in one room – often the range-heated kitchen or the open-fire-heated living room – and pile on the blankets in the bedrooms. Since the 1970s new houses have had to include insulation material in ceilings and walls and in 2009 the government introduced subsidies to insulate older houses.

Construction method

Almost all New Zealand houses have been constructed using a two-by-four stud (50 millimetres by 100 millimetres) wooden frame or skeleton. Vertical studs run from the ground floor to the trusses, with a few diagonal studs and the weatherboards providing bracing. The trusses support the roof and further strengthen the house. Due to their earthquake resilience, wooden frames are also used in brick veneer houses. In many cases framing components are prefabricated and taken to a building site for assembly. Most joinery – windows and doors – is also fabricated off-site and shipped in.

Footnotes
  1. ‘Birthday party at the orphanage,’ Press, 14 May 1880, p. 2. Back

Tenure

Renting

One of the attractions of colonial New Zealand life for workers was the opportunity to buy a piece of land and build their own house on it. Relatively high wages meant some working people were able to realise this aim, but the higher cost of land in cities meant workers were often priced out of this ideal and rented their homes instead.

Unfit for human habitation

In 1900 a reporter toured Dunedin’s slums and found that ‘[e]verywhere the same unclean, ill-constructed, and dilapidated tenements were met with, and it is little short of remarkable that there should be such a large number of houses in the city that can only be classed under the heading “Unfit for human habitation.”’1

Slum landlords

Investment in rental housing could be profitable because demand for housing in cities usually exceeded supply, so landlords could charge elevated rents. Due to the high demand there was little incentive to maintain properties, which as a result of their mainly wooden construction degenerated and became slum-like. Municipalities had few powers to make landlords improve their houses other than ordering their demolition as a health risk – mayors and councillors were sometimes slum landlords themselves.

State intervention

Such conditions led Richard Seddon’s Liberal government to initiate a state rental housing programme in 1905 to compete with the private sector and raise housing standards. The scheme failed to fire and the succeeding Reform government scuttled it and promoted the ideal of a property-owning democracy instead. For most people renting would be a brief interlude between leaving childhood homes and entering the home-ownership market themselves. The government provided cheap State Advances loans for approved families to build their own suburban home, but the 1930s economic depression forced many new home-owners back into renting.

Renting was given a further boost with the first Labour government’s state rental housing programme, designed to offer tenants the security of freehold ownership without the worry of upkeep. But the succeeding National government believed home ownership was morally superior to renting and offered state housing tenants cheap credit to buy their homes.

Home ownership peaks

Governments in the second half of the 20th century continued to promote home ownership over renting through numerous subsidies, and in 1986 the national home ownership rate peaked at 73%. After that time state home-ownership subsidies were reduced, which, alongside escalating housing costs, made it harder for first-time buyers to enter the market. By 2006 the home ownership rate had slipped to 63%. The long-held 20th-century ideal of New Zealand as a property-owning democracy was in retreat.

Footnotes
    • Otago Daily Times, 13 June 1900, p. 3. Back

Ideas about housing

Housing and colonisation

The most basic idea of housing is as a place of shelter, where inhabitants are protected from climatic elements and perceived threats. For colonial settlers the construction of houses also symbolised colonising the landscape. While the first settlers often lived in Māori-style whare, these dwellings were soon replaced by European housing. This created a built environment that expressed European cultural values and submerged Māori ones.

In Auckland and Wellington, Māori and kāinga were progressively removed and their inhabitants rehoused in European-style dwellings. Since the 1950s some Māori and Pākehā architects have attempted to build houses that make reference to Māori design traditions.

A citizenship right?

The 1930s Labour government declared that access to good quality housing ought to be a right of New Zealand citizenship, ‘on the same level as the right to education, sanitation, to good and abundant water, to an adequate road system and to a certain amount of medical care.’1 However, to realise such an ideal the state would have had to intervene in the housing market on a scale no government since has been prepared to entertain.

The family home

A powerful and enduring idea about housing was that of the family home. Before 1800 families in Britain often worked and lived in the same building, but during the 19th century the idea that work and home should be separated became popular – a breadwinner husband would travel to a workplace while his stay-at-home wife managed the household and raised children. At the working day’s end the husband would return to the refuge of family and home life. Here too he could find solace in nature by working in the backyard vegetable garden.

In New Zealand, this ‘separate spheres’ ideal was widely promoted by reform groups, such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, who wanted husbands to spend less of their leisure time in pubs and more of it with their families. Government policies such as the 1935 family wage (which set the male wage at a level that could also support a wife and children) further strengthened the ethos. But from the 1960s feminists argued that the ideal imprisoned housewives in their homes. They encouraged women to seek paid work outside the domestic sphere.

By the early 21st century few families could make ends meet on a single income, and in many households both parents worked, full- or part-time. Unchanged was the notion of the family home as a private retreat from the public world of work. The ubiquity of the single-detached dwelling on a fenced section continued to highlight the importance New Zealanders placed on the pursuit of privatised family life.

Housing envy

In 1938 a New Zealand magazine carried the following joke:

‘Well,’ remarked a married man, after examining his friend’s new flat. ‘I wish I could afford a place like this.’

‘Yes’, said his friend, ‘you married men may have better halves, but we bachelors usually have better quarters.’2

Social status and identity

For most New Zealanders their home is an expression of their social status and sense of personal identity. A large house with ostentatious features on a spacious garden expresses the owners’ wealth, power and aesthetic taste. A state house on a barren plot in a low-income suburb suggests the tenants are poor and powerless. As well as signifying where people stand in a community’s social hierarchy, housing offers insights into the lives, values and aesthetic sense of those who reside in them.

Housing as an investment

For most home owners their house is their largest ever purchase. Almost all view it as an investment that will improve in value over time and from which they can make a lucrative capital gain when it is sold. This idea is so strongly embedded in New Zealand culture that in 2012 the nation was almost alone among developed countries in not having a capital gains tax – and proposals for such a tax excluded the family home.

Footnotes
    • Cedric Firth, State housing in New Zealand. Wellington: Ministry of Works, 1949, p. 7. Back
    • ‘The housing problem’, NZ Railways Magazine 12, no. 10 (1 January 1938), p. 65. Back

21st-century challenges

High house prices

In the 2010s housing issues were at the forefront of public policy debate. With house prices increasing at a faster rate than incomes, housing had become ever less affordable for first-time home buyers, shutting many out of the home-ownership market. High prices were driven by lower interest rates, high immigration, a tax system that favoured rental housing investment, and expectations of future house-price increases. Calls were made for long-term rental housing tenancies among groups that would have previously moved into home ownership. Because the private rental market was characterised by short-term tenancies, it was uncertain whether private investors could meet this new demand.

To increase housing affordability the government introduced measures to help some low- and middle-income earners into home ownership, including a housing subsidy for KiwiSaver (superannuation) account holders. Private organisations such as the New Zealand Housing Foundation also helped low-income people into their own homes through initiatives such as shared ownership schemes.

Out of reach

In 2012 Craig Bradley and his wife Carla lived in the South Auckland suburb of Red Hill. Craig earned $900 a week from three jobs and paid $340 a week in rent. The couple had no prospect of buying a house. They needed $20,000 to $30,000 for a house deposit, but ‘at the moment we haven’t got 20 or 30 cents,’ conceded Craig.1

Supply and demand

There was also a shortfall in new housing construction, especially in areas of high demand such as Auckland. In 2010 the level of new housing construction in New Zealand was below population growth rates. The shortfall saw a slowing of new household formation as more people remained living at home rather than going flatting.

Forecasters predicted that the construction industry would rise to meet the shortfall in the long term, but some issues needed to be addressed first. These included planning regulations that inhibited new residential land supply or more intensive use of existing land, and increasing productivity rates and management skills within the residential building sector to lower costs. One solution to increase productivity and lower material costs was to use more prefabricated materials and standardised components.

Meeting diversity

Another issue for the sector was to provide housing that met the needs of an increasingly diverse population. The days of the ‘one-size-fits-all’ two- or three-bedroom dwelling had passed. New challenges included:

  • bigger houses for Pacific families, which were often larger than average
  • smaller dwellings for older people who were still able to live in their own homes
  • new housing designs that accommodated different cultural practices, such as the concepts of tapu and noa (sacred and non-sacred) in Māori society
  • changes to regulations to allow higher housing densities in rural areas for communal-style living.

Harnessing the sun

In 2012 the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority noted that New Zealand receives about 2,000 hours of bright sunshine each year. It calculated that if every New Zealand home had a 3-kilowatt photovoltaic solar panel system, they would collectively generate enough power in a year to satisfy over a quarter of New Zealand’s annual residential electricity needs.

Energy efficiency

Future emphasis was likely to be on building warmer and more energy-efficient houses, including by improving insulation materials, making greater use of double glazing, and using photovoltaic cells to harness solar energy. Increasing the energy efficiency of older homes was a further task. Research showing that cold and damp homes increased disease rates led the government in 2009 to introduce subsidies to retrofit uninsulated homes.

Sprawl or containment

One point of intense debate was whether new housing should continue to sprawl over new sites or be contained within existing urban limits. Proponents of containment argued that housing densities on existing land should be increased because it was easier and cheaper to provide and maintain urban infrastructure – streets, water and sewerage, and public transport. Their opponents claimed that restricting the amount of residential land increased its cost and made housing less affordable. New suburban housing developments could be made more sustainable through measures like better water management, providing local work opportunities, and encouraging walking and cycling. In 2012 both options were being pursued.

Footnotes
    • ‘Divided Auckland: one path to owning a home gone forever.’ New Zealand Herald, 8 February 2012, (last accessed 9 July 2012). Back

Hononga, rauemi nō waho

More suggestions and sources


How to cite this page: Ben Schrader, 'Housing', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/housing/print (accessed 18 September 2019)

Story by Ben Schrader, published 5 Sep 2013