Obvious solution to housing bubble – put a price on the holding of land

Dilapidated, no power, no water. But still worth $1million

Dilapidated, no power, no water. But still worth $1million

The debate on Auckland's out of control housing crisis is missing one critical factor. While some commentators actually realise it is the rising price of land that is the issue, most ignore it. If only there was a price on the holding of land, values wouldn’t rise so fast.

The key is understanding that the Auckland Council was enshrined in legislation mandating that rates are struck on capital value. That financially disincentives building. For most of NZ history council rates were struck on land value only. This may be the reason that Wellington, Napier and Dunedin are relatively compact.

If you strike rates on only land value it
1. Encourages development and building because there is no financial disincentive to improving land.
2. Prevents urban sprawl
3. Prevents leapfrogging where there are holes in the development.
4. Is progressive, favouring the poor. Property ownership is more concentrated than income so rich people end up paying more.
5. Stops land value from rising too fast.
6. Stops rents from rising as rents rise more if the landlord needs to pay extra rates if the house is upgraded.
7. Forces slum landlords to sell or develop.(especially if the price on holding land is high enough)

Section 13 of the Local Government (Auckland Transitional Provisions) Act 2010 requires the general rate to be set on capital values.

In 1998 Pennsylvania changed its laws to allow urban authorities to split their property taxes into land tax rates and building tax rates. The cities that put more tax on land than on building all avoided property bubbles and prevented urban sprawl. Pittsburg survived and thrived after steel.

Unless something is done to reverse the part of the legislation mandating for capital value rating, we will continue to have rising house prices, urban sprawl and inequality.

We also have to get rid of Universal Fixed Annual Charges. The Shand Report of 2007 recommended this as it found them to be regressive. They also recommended getting rid of rating differentials and recommended everyone go on capital value rating. What a shame. Their recommendation to go on capital value rating was wrong, but the other two right recommendations seem to have been completely ignored.

However rating systems, even when imposed on land values do not capture all the capital gain from holding land. It is important that a full rental is placed on land value and the revenue is shared by local and central government. A land based rating system can only go so far to capture the rental and stop it being privately captured.

Why our are farmers farming for capital gain?

Andrew Gawith, Director of Gareth Morgan Investments, described the economics of farming in New Zealand as “speculative” as the financial benefits are almost entirely dependent on capital gains. Other than dairy, income is puny and unreliable, he said."Farm finances don't add up." (NZ Herald, Nov 30, 2010)

Alvin and Judy ReidWhereas UK and US price of rural land doubled in a decade, the value of farmland in New Zealand has risen at 10.7% a year over the past 20 years. (That is the value of farmland doubles in less than seven years). “That’s a real after tax return of something in the order of 7 percent to 8 percent a year.” He points out this is double the return of sharemarkets.

He says, “Farming is the most popular business for banks to lend to. While other areas of economic endeavour are starved of capital, banks have very nearly drowned farming with debt. The ease with which farmers can get capital has helped push up the price of land.”

If farmers are drowning in debt, they will not be able to withstand a rise in interest rates. An article in NZ Farmer warns that with the drop in the price of milk, a quarter of farmers are heading for loss unless prices rise. So as China’s economy slows the high debt farmers are most vulnerable. Winston is watching.

gw-speech-the-significance-of-dairy-to-the-new-zealand-economy-7-may-201400This is our dairy debt from 1990-2014. It has multiplied by eight over those 24 years. Gareth Vaughan reminds us that nearly 70% of this dairy debt is on floating mortgages. Dairy debt was around $32 b in 2013, up from $8 b in 2003, which makes a quadrupling in a decade!

Farming is very capital intensive, with only mining and utilities more so. According to a NZIER study “Around three quarters of value added in agriculture is from capital (land, plant and machinery). This is higher than the economy wide average of around 50%.”

If dairy farming turns out to be the cause of our country’s Minsky moment, can we avert a crisis by taking control of our currency creation and land tenure system at Community Board level? Not only is this our only hope, but it will lead eventually to greater productivity and equality – as well as getting good young farmers on the land at an affordable entry level.