While the government anguishes over our education system and spends much time, energy and money trying to fix what isn't broken, other areas of greater significance are being ignored. New Zealand housing is in a crisis situation and the capacity of our construction industry is in decline.
Most of the housing currently being built is for the elite market, as the cost of building a new house is now beyond most New Zealanders. The average house being built in New Zealand places us third in the OECD for size, just behind Australia and the US, and they are three times bigger than those being built in Sweden or the UK. According to last week's Listener, it is also 30% more expensive to build a house here than in Australia and, as our wages are 30% lower, this just increases the unaffordability for the majority of New Zealanders.
We have a huge shortage of low cost housing. Auckland alone needs 11,000 houses over the next two years and Christchurch will potentially need similar numbers. Our state housing stock is still below the numbers we had in the 1990s even though the demand is greater. Around 50% of our state houses are still those built in the 1940s and the shift to greater private provision of low cost rentals has seen a general decline in the quality that is available. New Zealand's housing is generally well behind Europe in quality and we have been compared to being similar to Sweden fifty years ago. Huge numbers of New Zealand families still live in old uninsulated wooden villas with inefficient heating systems and no double glazing.
Common south Invercargill housing
The government does not see the availability of high quality, low cost housing as an issue and even allows rental profiteering in Christchurch where demand is high. I was told the other day of a family forced to squeeze themselves in to a "truckers" motel due to the lack of availability of anything they could afford. The government is even actively putting the housing needs of the affluent ahead of the poor by removing state housing from areas where developers could prosper through redevelopment.
We are also having to deal with a huge back log of leaky buildings, around $1.5 billion of leaky schools to fix and another $10 billion of private structures. The repairs and rebuilds are as urgent as the Christchurch repairs and have been around for much longer.
Meanwhile, the construction industry is in decline (15% of the workforce have been lost over the last 5 years) and it isn't even being promoted as a potential career on the government's own career website. There has been minimal investment in training and building capability and the government appears to be resigned to bringing in an overseas work force when demand in Christchurch grows. Considering 27% of our youth are unemployed this lack of foresight seems almost criminal.
Even our training methods and qualifications for construction workers and builders lack the sort of robust support necessary to engage and grow a capable work force. I recently met an English builder who has worked in New Zealand for a number of years, he is passionate about improving the quality of industry texts and qualifications to that of the UK builders guild. He patiently explained to me how the texts and training in New Zealand excludes many young men (and women) who are very practical and capable but cannot engage with the unnecessarily high literacy demands of our qualifications and courses. When the need for employment is great and the demand for housing is huge we should be doing as much as we can to fill the gaps.