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:

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.

Home affordability the big issue

Today there was a great programme on Q+A on TVOne. Murray Sherwin from the Productivity Commission spells out the facts. Median house price for the country is $372,000 and for Auckland it is $500,000. The big factor is the price of land in Auckland is 60% of the value of the section. Don Brash, a commentator quoted a 500 sq metre Pukekohe section as costing $230,000. Bernard Hickey says a young couple might have to borrow 7-8 times their income, but if they have a pregnancy, get sick or if interest rates rise from 5% to 8%, they are in big trouble. Moreoever they often have high student debts as well.  A generation of New Zealanders won't be able to own their own homes and this is a cause of social strife. We are 10,000 to 15,000 homes short and the problems are mostly in Auckland and Christchurch. Bernard Hickey said between 2004 and 2007 when house prices rose so steeply, many had leveraged up their equity in homes, and the total increase in wealth of homeowners was in the region of $300b to $400 billion. All of which was private gain for homeowners and banks. My comment is that this was public money and should have been publicly gathered. The programme highlighted the fact that most of the homes which have been built have been top end houses from spec builders. We need better economies of scale and only Fletchers can do this. There are too few factory built modules. Dr Bryce Edwards, a political scientist commentator, said no political party has campaigned on affordable housing. Helen Kelly from the CTU said families are struggling and living in poor quality housing. There are 4000 on the Housing NZ waiting list. Wages are too low and the price of renting is rising. Whereas once 75% of households were owned their home this has now dropped to 65%. Hickey said that land taxes and capital gains tax must be discussed but the former is a political hot potato. We need land prices to come down. Brash said Capital Gains Tax was not working in Australia and they had the same problem. Annette King, spokesperson for Labour has apparently said that the Accommodation Supplement needs to be revisited. Sherwin said that all up it is a $3-4 billion subsidy to landlords. Building costs and consenting costs are too high. There is a monopoly supply of building materials, which add 20% to the building costs. The answer is not in extending city boundaries. That raises the burden on supply of infrastructure and make travel distances too far. Our challenge as a party is to find a politically acceptable method of imposing a land tax, while reducing the price of building and using the current housing stock efficiently. We must work towards a future where good, low cost houses are provided without increasing costs to local authority in infrastructure. Even Don Brash said the price of land was the core issue. Nobody on the programme raised the issue of currency reform. It is time to connect the creation of money with land, but do it at government level.