Why not put Council owned land into a Community Land Trust?

It's local body election time.

I was privileged to speak with Emer O'Siochru of FEASTA recently. Twenty years ago she was a cofounder of the Irish Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability. She has campaigned for proportional representation. For three years she worked for a Site Value Tax but it was not successful. She is now working on Community Land Trusts.

We spoke about the challenge of connecting Community Land Trusts with local government so that local government could receive income from land rents. Suddenly there it was. She said in Dublin local government and central government owned a third of the land and so why couldn't that land all go into a Community Land Trust?

Imagine all of us trying that campaign together so that local government all over our countries would be lobbied to do this. Oh yes there would be obstacles. There will only be a few people you know, for instance, in your local Community Board area who understand that allowing property owners to profit from the rising value of their land is depriving society of its rightful income. So for a start there will only be a few to work with. But you only need three or four keen people.

The idea is that instead of Council selling off their land to developers, the council would continue to own the land but the lessee would be able to build a house on it. This is leasehold land. But every year the rent should be reassessed. This could be done by setting up a Land Rental Index to adjust the rent according to the change over that year. Our land is valued every three years anyway. All it means is that a sample of properties would be assessed for their annual rent. You start with an index of 100 and next year it might go up to 102 if there had been development in the district. Or if you live in Westport of Wairoa where land values are declining, the rental would drop.

The main obstacle the Council would raise in New Zealand would be that Council wouldn't know how to levy rates because it wouldn't know how much to charge. You see in the Kapiti Coast District Council where I live, rates are on Capital Value plus several Fixed Annual Charges for services. They wouldn't be able to separate out land from improvements. The rating system on Capital Value discourages building because the more you spend on building the bigger your rates bill. So some campaigner will stop at this point and work to change the rating system. Rating should be based on land value only or Unimproved Value. And fixed annual charges are regressive because the poor pay as much as the rich, which means it is a larger proportion of their income.

The advantage for lessees is that you only need to pay for the house not for the land. Since land comprises more than 60% of the property value in Auckland and usually over 40% in smaller areas, houses themselves become vastly more affordable. The lease would also have to be fair and it would be best for a 75 year period, a lifetime. It is just that the rent must be adjusted yearly to avoid any crazy leaps as in Auckland.

Of course this would all work better if the people who pay rent on their land are also able to escape income tax and GST. They go together. But this problem is for another day.

But somewhere someone will be successful. One day.

Deirdre Kent 

Please go to Facebook for discussion

Auckland home owners are “richer” than last year by $64 billion

The average price for an  Auckland home is now just over $1 million. The media focuses, as they usually do, on how impossible it is nowadays for young people to buy a house, with a side mention of how difficult it is for nurses, service workers and teachers to buy a house, and how the Auckland problem is spilling over to the entire country. There has also been a great deal of publicity in the last six months about homelessness, with a marae in Auckland shaming the Government into action by opening its doors to the homeless for the winter.

But there is another big issue that is almost never mentioned – the lost potential public revenue from land rent. Land rent is what the occupier would pay to the public if the public owned the land. Many have explained that the rise in value of homes is really the accumulated land rent over that period. It is also called the capital gain or unearned windfall.


Recent figures from Quotable Values New Zealand allow us to work out the on-paper profit for our country's homeowners and for Auckland's homeowners. This of course is just on-paper, but because it represents their realisable assets it does allow homeowners to do other things e.g. borrow more for other purposes. This calculation acknowledges that the figures are the houses that are sold only. Houses sold in that period were more like one tenth of the housing stock. But if my neighbour's house sells for $1million and ours is similar we know ours could sell for a similar price. Our house value is what a valuer would estimate or better still what the market would pay. Valuers value by looking at what did sell in the district and making comparisons. The bank recognises this as the value of our asset.

And the fact that I had a huge mortgage didn't really make any difference. Supposing I only have $200k and buy a $900k house, selling it a year later for $1 million. I make a profit of $100k because my deposit of $200k was turned into $300k.

Let's first take Auckland where the figures are the most dramatic. 

House prices rose nearly 16% last year. The average uplift in Auckland house prices in that period was $138,781.

Since land values are created by the community around them, by the governments and communities that serve that site, the uplift belongs to the public purse. Rise in property prices are virtually all attributable to the rise in land prices. Schools, hospitals, infrastructure are built by government, central and local, and the private land owner reaps the profit. Businesses arrive, clubs start. Without a community around it, land has little value. (Even agriculture requires transport infrastructure. Land for conservation is usually publicly owned). 

The total uplift for Auckland properties was 461,669 (the number of residential properties in Auckland Council) multiplied by $138,781, or $64 billion.

Sold Home For Sale Sign and House

Now supposing this uplift was publicly captured month by month in the form of a full land rent, as it should be. What would the council do with it?

1. They could give half to the government straight away, leaving $32 billion.

2. They could put aside about $20 billion for infrastructure building and upgrading including rapid transit, and debt relief, leaving $12 billion still to be shared.

3. Sharing the rents is important. So the $12 billion could be given out as a Citizens Dividend to every man, woman and child in Auckland. The population of Auckland is about 1.58 million, making about $7,600 per person. For a family of five that would be $38,000.

That should help a few homeless families!

New Zealand homeowners are $138 billion richer than last year 

There are at least 1,771,2000 residential homes in NZ (2013 census). The average uplift in NZ house prices was the difference between the Aug 2016 price and the August 2015 price, which as $78,196.

So multiplying these two, New Zealand homeowners on paper have assets worth about $138 billion more than last year. The tax take last year was $66.6 billion. So it is more than double the tax take. All this is privately captured when it really should be going to the state. In comparison to the $138 billion uplift for NZ, the GDP last year was about $170 billion.

However there are several political obstacles stopping us from applying these solutions in our current context:

• Aucklanders pay rates. However Auckland Council was introduced by legislation when amalgamation took place. This mandated that the rates were levied on capital values, thus requiring legislation for a change to rating system on land values. There is only miniscule awareness of this as a political issue.

• The viability these days of a centrally imposed land tax is not good, given the fact there are at least three bank lobbyists for every legislator and neoclassical economics is in full bloom. Nowadays the power of the landed and moneyed elite is so much greater in relation to the 99% than it has ever been.

• It has been legally impossible to impose land tax in NZ since 1992, though the PM seems not to know this because it was he that suggested putting a land tax on property bought by foreigners earlier in 2016. The idea died within a day or two. However this law could easily be reversed.

• No politician wanting to be re-elected would advocate a measure that was going to bring down house prices and leave homebuyers with negative equity. A 5-6% land tax would actually be for politicians and doing it gradually wouldn’t work either.

• Imposing a land value tax must go hand in hand with dropping of income tax so this has to be incorporated into the solution.

But all is not lost! The obstacles are not insuperable. Think about the untenable current situation of housing prices and its destructive consequences of widening the wealth gap. We have to start on other ground breaking solutions. Let’s be pioneering here.

A little history might give hope. New Zealand had a Liberal Government in the 1890s that imposed a land tax to break up big land holdings. Then it extended, but unfortunately it was at a higher rate per acre for large landholdings than for smaller ones, which was essentially unfair. This resulted in a new political party dominated by larger farmers. But land tax never reached more than 20% of the tax take, and income tax was gradually increased and extended. The same Liberal Government did however enact legislation to empower local government to hold a referendum where ratepayers could choose between land value rating systems and capital value. This was in place for 80 years and always resulted in the more equitable the public choosing land value rating systems. Cities like Wellington and Napier built on this rating system are compact.

If money buys lobbying power, then we have to be more strategic and try different tactics. This might point to governance reform giving much more power to local authorities and to even smaller governance units. Given that the banks have a vested interest in profiting from the buying and selling of land and from the private ownership of natural resources and infrastructure, a host of local innovative actions may be the surprise option. And this would require huge resistance from local communities that are determined to share land values and preserve natural resource values.

Maybe the old system should be left alone to collapse and die, and the new paradigm system reinvented at local level. We need to ask how land trusts can connect with localised governance units whose revenue is derived land and resource rents. But where would the money come from to buy the land? Maybe we need to create a local currency designed to circulate at an optimal speed. Maybe when there is surplus locally it can be steered from the periphery to the centre of government.

Certainly clever, innovative thinking is called for and it should be all hands on deck for that task!

Living Big in Tiny Houses

Big-Tiny-HouseHenry David Thoreau, the American author, poet, and philosopher (among other things) who wrote the classic essay “Walden” is somewhat of a poster boy for many in the tiny house movement. Thoreau himself lived in a tiny house (a 10′ x 15′ English style cottage) near Walden ponds. He spent more than two years living is this small cottage, contemplating life and turning conventional living on its head.

He worked as little as possible, in direct opposition to the standard mantra of the era, which entailed six days working and one day off. The freedom his new approach to working hours afforded allowed him to gain clarity of mind. He witnessed those around him endure the monotony of everyday work, suggesting, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” He was passionate about acting on one’s individual conscience and not blindly following laws, government, and societal norms. Thoreau’s view of the world in some way represents the essence of the tiny house movement.

cottage-style-tiny-houseToday Thanks to people like Jay Shafer (who founded Tumbleweed, a California-based company that designs and builds ready-made models and floor plans), there has been increased exposure on tiny homes throughout the mainstream media. This exposure has helped bring awareness to the idea of alternative modes of living. The mainstream are taken by the tiny house movement with major networks and media outlets such as CNN, AP, The Guardian, Huffington Post, NBC, Oprah, PBS and many other blogs and networks featuring the phenomenon. Today the internet has been flooded with various images, videos, and stories of people living in and becoming involved with tiny homes around the world. Television shows, documentaries and You Tube clips abound. The tiny house movement, while still in its early days, will most likely be one of the biggest trends over the coming decades.

Six Reasons Why the Tiny House Movement is Going to be Big Over Coming Decades 1. Economic In the aftermath of the financial crisis and now the Euro crisis, many people have simply lost their hard earned dollars or had their homes repossessed. This segment has had to reassess their lives and their future. When you have lost decades of earning capacity you really need to rethink things. Since the GFC, things have become a lot worse for economies, with both private and sovereign debt levels almost double what they were before. In OECD cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Toronto, Vancouver, Auckland, London, and New York, the average price of a standard home or apartment is close to or pushing through the million dollar mark. Even in the far flung outlying suburbs of large cities properties can easily be priced from $500,000 upwards. Even if you are fortunate enough to have a well paying job or business, mortgages can take anywhere between 2o to 40 years to repay. According to “The Tiny Life” research, 21% of people who own a tiny home are under 30. 21% are between 30 – 40, 18% between 40 -50, and the majority (38%) over 50 years of age.

Earthsong-Tiny-House1 2. Environmental As people become more conscious of their environmental footprints, small homes will become more prevalent throughout the mainstream. As energy prices continue to increase and the costs of living rise, the tiny house movement will grow. The overall cost of maintaining, heating, and cooling a small space is significantly less than that for larger, more energy and resource intense properties. Not to mention the resources used in the build process are often ten times less than a conventional 2,200 square foot property.

3. Simplicity imgresSimplifying one’s life and being able to live life within ones means is a good starting point for being able to weather any economic contraction. Reducing debt and downsizing will make the transition to a more sustainable life much easier. Many studies maintain that a simpler and less consumerist lifestyle can lead to a happier and more fulfilling life. A consumerist lifestyle distracts individuals from more meaningful endeavours. Reducing the amount of possessions in one’s life can lead to a cleansing not only of physical possessions, but also of the mind, leading to enhanced mental clarity. Having limited space forces one to de-clutter and minimize the amount of stuff owned. Your entire life is therefore simplified, everything from clothes and appliances to furniture begins to take up less mental energy. You only carry what is essential and what is needed. Many tiny homes are roadworthy, mounted on trailers which gives owners the ability to easily relocate.

4. Tiny Homes Give You Big Think Space The 1950’s heralded the rise and development of suburbia which expanded throughout many Western nations. In conjunction with larger parcels of land came larger homes. It was predominately the post war economic growth in the United States and other OECD nations which encouraged the suburbanization of cities. With cheap energy in the form of crude oil helping fund this suburban expansion, consumer patterns also shifted. The baby boomers went on a spending spree as industrial output enabled people to purchase an array of goods and services that only decades earlier did not exist or were cost prohibitive. With suburbia and larger houses came a new consumer culture. These large homes needed more ‘stuff’ to make them look like they weren’t empty. Today approximately 30% of most American weekly income is spent servicing debt and mortgage repayments. In countries such as Australia and Canada the number is closer to 40%. It is easy to see why there has been a lack of dissent and free thinking among the masses. Tiny homes and downsizing free you up from the burden of expensive living and being chained to the wheel.

5. Happiness Levels With less stress and without the burden of having to pay and repay debt, people are waking up to the realization that you don’t need to live in a monster home to be truly happy. With the average size of most North American homes increasing by over 60% since the early 1970’s, there is no evidence to suggest living in a bigger home adds to overall levels of happiness, despite what the advertisers and mortgage brokers will tell you! Having a larger home doesn’t mean you are 60% happier than those living in a small space. In fact, studies show that the larger the home, and the more time you devote to maintaining, cleaning, and servicing, the more financial and personal stress you will experience. Living light gives people space to define their worlds and gain more control over how they live life, ultimately leading to greater happiness and satisfaction.

6. Community Since the rapid period of ‘suburbanization’ from the 1950’s onwards, which brought about long distance commutes to central business districts, more frequent overseas travel, and consumerism, community ties and networks have been lost. People in large cities and throughout suburbia have become isolated. While there are pockets of vibrant communities, in general there has been a disintegration of community values and connection. We have become too busy working to pay off large mortgages and engaging in hedonistic pursuits which have distracted us from what really matters – family, community, and relationships. There are many vibrant developments in the small space community. Due to the relatively new nature of the movement people are coming together in collaboration to solve some of the zoning, planning, and logistical challenges that have since arisen. Projects like the Tiny House Village in Sonoma Country will become blueprints for others to follow. This project will offer shared amenities with the village structured more like a co-op.

Article compiled by Andrew Martin, editor of onenesspublishing and author of One ~ A Survival Guide for the Future… and Rethink…Your world, Your future.

Sources: Rethink…Your world, Your future.

Images: Living Big in A Tiny House

Productivity Commission recommends change to land value rating system

You won't find this headline in the NZ Herald or the Dominion Post because it is all but ignored in their reports. Admittedly the Dominion Post gives the rating system a mention in paragraphs 16 and 17 of its report, but its headline was "User pays seem as vital for housing".

If we look at the actual report, Using Land for Housing, it argues logically that a return to land value rating system is going to incentivise building. After several pages of evidence it concludes very moderately that "A good case appears to exist for setting general rates on the basis of land value rather than capital value, to encourage the development and efficient use of land. Arguments used to prefer capital value rating are not strong."

It says:
"A number of policy settings would influence a landowner’s incentive to develop land, at the margin. This
section considers four:
 the valuation basis of councils’ general rates;
 land taxes;
 tax breaks for development; and
 charging rates on Crown-owned land."

The media of course will focus on on the last of these.

Go to P258 of the report and read the subsequent pages. Submissions on the draft report are due on 4 August

Modernising the Georgist ‘doctrine’ without using the words “land value tax”

41bQo1jRHqL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_In Land a New Paradigm for a Thriving World, Martin Adams has spelled out his philosophy that no one should make a profit from owning land. He has carefully and thoughtfully reframed the Georgist ‘doctrine’ for a modern era and developed a clear new language. For example here is a classic sentence: ‘What most people don’t yet realise is that the value of land is best shared, and that whenever we profit from land we profit from society.”

Martin is no slave to doctrine and clearly thinks out the issues for himself. He sees the vision. “Once we being to share this value with one another, we have the opportunity to unleash a cultural, technological, ecological, and even spiritual renaissance that will liberate us in ways we can’t imagine.”

And – great news – Martin is no centralist. He understands that revenue must flow from the periphery to the centre, not the other way round. So he talks of land moving into a Community Land Trust and people then paying a Community Land Contribution. Some of the revenue stays local and the rest is passed upwards to other levels of government.

From his description of how to prevent urban sprawl to his chapter on using farmland efficiently, Martin challenges us to think in a fresh way.

Thoughout this valuable little book Martin has steadfastly refused to use the word ‘tax’ , arguing it implies that the people being taxed have to part with something that belongs to them. “Land value taxes”, he says, “are still rooted in the paradigm of private land ownership.”

The questions arising from this book regarding the practicalities of some of his suggested solution remain to be tackled. Martin, being so honest and so curious, will no doubt ask more questions, talk to more people and develop more politically realistic solutions. It's monumental task. I have no doubt he will make an even bigger contribution in the future. Watch this space!

Charles Eisenstein, Thom Hartman and Peter Barnes don’t just recommend any book or call a book a ‘brilliant contribution’ or a ‘modern breakthrough’. Their reputations would be at stake if they did.

Available here

There is no shortage of bedrooms in Auckland but…

The Q and A programme on TVOne this week started with a debate on housing. Property investor Olly Newland and Hive News Publisher Bernard Hickey were asked by Susan Wood about how to control the housing bubble in Auckland, since the Reserve Banks had this week decided it was not budging and would leave the Loan To Value (LVR) restrictions in place.

Olly Newland seemed to want no restrictions at all so that rents will come down. Bernard Hickey pointed out that if you have first home buyers with 1% deposit you run the risk that the banks will fail and the Reserve Bank can’t take that risk. Olly replied that the banks can look after themselves, which fails to understand that we need a reliable banking system. He said that LVR restricts first home buyers and that is preventing them from getting on the housing ladder. He even used the term “moral aspect” and said he was the first to encourage home buying for first home buyers.

Bernard pointed out that if rents go up the government has a fiscal problem because it pays accommodation supplements. Bernard says if interest rates go up homeowners are in trouble. He reflected on the fact that RBNZ had been considering various ways of controlling lending to investors, including a different rule for those who have five or more properties.

They disagreed on whether interest rates will rise or go down, Olly opting for the latter and saying we are getting deflation starting round the world. He dismissed the RBNZ’s solution to control investment finance as “political claptrap” and said he wanted people to be able to rent property for a lifetime securely. He believes the market would steadily slow down and people were investing for the long term.

Oh well, interesting to have his views.

Then the panellists came on and included Matthew Horton and Laila Harre. Laila said the government doesn’t know whether
they want more people to live in their own houses
they want to control the rental market. They should get a policy on these.

Laila said there was an obsession with the supply issue and a lack of proper statistics. The housing shortage figures vary between 5000 and 30,000! Property investors owning 5-6 homes are often living in large houses themselves when all their children have gone. There isn’t a shortage of bedrooms in Auckland at all.

Matthew then pointed out the anomalies possible in the RBNZ’s other options e.g. does a property owner with five bedsits have a bigger portfolio than those with three huge student houses? Here we go again. If you don’t ask the right questions you don’t get the right answers and you end up with a complicated messy system full of anomalies.

So they managed to have a whole debate without once raising the issue of land prices and how to keep them down.

You know when I was writing my book Healthy Money Healthy Planet – Developing Sustainability through New Money Systems I was arguing that money be created without interest. Some said interest rates need to go up not down. But the strongest reaction I got from the drafts was from Robert Keall of Resource Rentals for Revenue. He basically said “zero interest loans over my dead body” because he knew land prices go up. He said we want higher interest rates not lower interest rates.

Ten years later I know what they all meant. Low interest rates mean a land bubble (people call them housing bubbles but it is really the land that rises in value not the building).

So while I am still of the opinion that money should be never be created as interest bearing debt, I am also acutely aware of the connection between land and money and know that in New Zealand new land tenure systems were introduced by British colonists at the same time as private banks and their money creation powers.

The whole point is that because land is naturally occurring, it belongs to everyone. Colonists brought with them a concept completely alien to Maori, and indeed to the thinking of indigenous people worldwide, – private land ownership. The setttlers, who had largely been tenant farmers in England and Scotland, wanted freehold land. Freehold means land ‘free of rent’. Thousands of years of enclosures of land in Britain had meant that freehold was the new ideal. They had forgotten that land belongs to everyone.

It is a sign of how little distance we have come in our understanding of land as a natural resource that a high profile debate like this QandA debate can go hard at it without mentioning land. One tweeter said ‘The elephant in the room is capital gains’, again without mentioning land.

Oh and they had a debate they had about ‘forcing people out of their homes’. When Laila pointed out that there was no shortage of bedrooms in Auckland, Matthew Hooten said you can’t force people out of their homes. Well a tax system can. That is what tax systems do – they alter behaviour. If a Remuera retired couple is living in a huge home and the only cost to hold their land is the rates, they stay there. If however they had to pay an extra 3% land tax they might reconsider buying a smaller property more suited to their needs.

The next day the Dominion Post carried a short piece making Laila look ridiculous for saying this but she was only pointing out a fact.

A recent Melbourne study has found that a great many property owners are not even renting, they are just sitting on their properties waiting for capital gain. In the commercial area it is a higher percentage and in each suburb it differs. 64,386 properties are likely vacancies during Melbourne’s record-long housing supply crisis - See more at: http://www.prosper.org.au/tag/speculative-vacancies/#sthash.cHtfoINb.dpuf

It is time such a study was done for Auckland.

Economics professor Steve Keen in a recent interview said it is only thing stopping unemployment rising to the levels of Europe is the the housing bubble. The housing bubble keeps money supply up. Goodness, that is a critical point and leads us to understand the interconnections between the money supply, unemployment and how the tax system affect where money is invested. Of course Steve Keen must then argue we need more money in the system as well as a tax system that taxes the monopoly use of the commons and not work. And we have to find a money system that is sufficient. Thank goodness for the citizen effort going on at the moment to start a Christchurch currency. Yes getting this new political economy is a huge challenge for the entire world. http://www.switzer.com.au/video/keen13112014/.

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.