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If you have a flood and a fire, you could have zero problems rather than two

Suppose that Labour is right that there is a flood of Chinese investment currently driving up Auckland house prices, and suppose further that some of the economic commentary is right that this could just be the start of it.

We know there’s a housing shortage, and not just from price data. Overcrowding is pretty common. And it isn’t because of empty houses owned by foreign investors – if that’s happening at all, it’s at such trivial levels as to not be worth worrying about. Census data shows a decrease in the proportion of unoccupied houses from 2006 to 2013 in Auckland, not an increase. And Auckland’s rate of unoccupied housing is lower than other cities’ rates.

Suppose that you had a river in flood. Downstream from a dam, a house is on fire. The dam diverts the water over a pile of farmland and away from the house. If you opened up one of the dam sluices, some of that water could go to put out the fire and, at the same time, ease flooding on the farmland. What would you think about folks who stood at the sluice gate arguing about where the water was coming from rather than opening the tap?

If there’s a flood of foreign capital coming in, why can’t we change the policy settings? It’s a crisitunity*, not a crisis!

Ease up zoning, both up and out, so that foreign money can build new apartment buildings, new townhouses, new mid-rises, and new subdivisions. Ease up the Overseas Investment Act so that land bought by foreigners for subdivisions automatically was approved.**

What’s the worst that could happen? If a pile of foreign investors put too much money building new housing for Auckland, they’ll lose their shirts, Auckland still has the housing, rents drop and Auckland could be affordable again. In what crazy world is that a worst case anyway?

Is this potentially the single greatest wasted opportunity of the last decade?

* This post’s featured image comes from here, where you can buy a t-shirt with the crisitunity slogan.

** See the Productivity Commission’s report here.


About Eric Crampton (88 Articles)
I'm Head of Research with the New Zealand Initiative.

1 Comment on If you have a flood and a fire, you could have zero problems rather than two

  1. Yes it’s crazy.

    Here we are bitching about Chinese people who want to own our bubble (let ’em have it!), when what we could be doing is having a booming economy flat-out building people houses.

    A booming economy AND a rapidly shrinking housing crisis. Wow!

    Clearly it’s not a money problem. Look at how much you can sell a house for!

    It’s a problem of simple-thinking planners who never should have been awarded their degrees, and the “smart growth” people running local councils today.

    The whole thing is a sick, glorious, black comedy.


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