Tuesday 21 November 2017

Is The Talented Mr Twyford Talented Enough?

The Man With The Plan: The “Housing Crisis” strikes at the core expectations of hundreds-of-thousands of New Zealanders. By promising to meet those expectations, the Labour-led government has made itself a hostage to the supremely-confident individual who insists that he alone has the political skills to end the crisis – Phil Twyford.

PHIL TWYFORD is an eye-roller. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We all know eye-rollers: those guys (and gals) who consider themselves to be so incontestably “across” a subject that anyone offering a contrary viewpoint is dismissed with an exasperated roll of the eyes. All well and good, providing the subject under discussion is rugby, or the best way to cook a Christmas turkey. But, if the subject under scrutiny is housing: the issue upon which this government is positioned to either succeed or fail; well then, that’s not so good. Not so good at all.

It doesn’t help that the Minister of Housing and Transport, in addition to being an eye-roller, is also a chin-jutter. As anyone who’s ever watched him on television can attest, he is prone to sailing into political discussions like one of those Ancient Greek war-galleys: with his chin standing-in for the battering-ram! Unhelpfully, by positioning his head in this way, Phil is more-or-less required to look down his nose – which only makes things worse!

Eye-rolling superiority, coupled with chin-jutting belligerence, can sometimes work for a politician. Especially when they’re simply part of a much larger ensemble of intimidating behavioural gestures. Just think of Sir Robert Muldoon – or Donald Trump! On the other hand, if you’re determined to be Mean Mr Mustard, then there’s absolutely no point in you also attempting to be Sweet Baby James! Or Phil, for that matter.

All very personal. But, a politician’s personality is not something to be casually disregarded. As Jacinda Ardern has so spectacularly demonstrated, the ability to project a likeable personality can take a politician – and her party – a very long way indeed! By the same token, an irritating political persona can all-too-easily distract voters from their government’s core messages, or, even worse, impede the progress of its core policies.

There is no policy more critical to this Government’s political survival than housing. The availability and affordability of warm, dry houses for all New Zealanders was a key voter motivator in the 2017 election. For many working-class Kiwis, simply finding somewhere to live – at a rent they can afford – has become a relentless struggle. At the same time, young middle-class Kiwis are beginning to despair of ever being able to afford to buy a home of their own. The “Housing Crisis” thus strikes at the core expectations of hundreds-of-thousands of New Zealanders. By promising to meet those expectations, the Labour-led government has made itself a hostage to the supremely-confident individual who insists that he alone has the political skills to end the crisis – Phil Twyford.

No pressure, then, Phil.

Except, every day, the pressures bearing on just about every aspect of the housing crisis grow. Most seriously, doubts have been expressed within both the Reserve Bank and Treasury about the viability of Labour’s flagship housing programme, “KiwiBuild”.

Promising to build 100,000 “affordable houses” in ten years, KiwiBuild has stood at the centre of Labour’s housing policy since 2012: a flashy hand-me-down from the doomed leadership of David Shearer. Essentially, KiwiBuild was a feel-good policy, cobbled-together by the Labour Right to defuse an internal party crisis. It was a rickety concept five years ago and, unfortunately, it’s gotten no stronger.

The problem with KiwiBuild, along with Labour’s other big promise to build an additional 1,000 state houses per annum, is that there simply isn’t an agency of sufficient size and authority; with sufficient financial resources, labour and building materials; to turn Labour’s promises into actual houses in anything like the numbers promised. Regardless, Twyford refuses to countenance the socialistic methods adopted by the First Labour Government, preferring, instead, to rely upon “the market” for a construction effort unprecedented in 80 years.

Accordingly, KiwiBuild looks set to become one of the largest Public-Private-Partnerships in New Zealand history. At least as large as the partnership between the First Labour Government and James Fletcher’s state house construction firm. Unfortunately, this is not 1937: there is simply no slack in the building industry: everything, including its labour force, is fully stretched. Nevertheless, Twyford remains “confident” that the private sector will come to the KiwiBuild party. In the absence of substantial state subsidisation, however, that seems unlikely.

The only path to fulfilling Labour’s housing promises is via the creation of a massive state-directed, properly resourced and publicly-funded entity, driven forward with the same monomaniacal zeal displayed by New Zealand’s first housing “czar”, John A Lee. Jacinda Ardern erred in over-loading Twyford with two key portfolios: Transport and Housing. She should have given the whole Transport portfolio to the Greens’ Julie Anne Genter.

Twyford does not believe he is overburdened. Nor does he accept that his reliance on the private sector will ensure Kiwibuild becomes a fatal political failure. Suggest otherwise and he will simply jut out his chin, and roll his eyes.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 21 November 2017.


peteswriteplace said...

He has talked about it for years, and now is in a position to lead it. Remembering he has only been in office a month, give him a go. There will have to be changes down the track. Nothing is so straight forward.But it is all about housing Kiwi families.

BlisteringAttack said...

Let's see in three years time if he's another John A Lee.

pat said...

"The only path to fulfilling Labour’s housing promises is via the creation of a massive state-directed, properly resourced and publicly-funded entity, driven forward with the same monomaniacal zeal displayed by New Zealand’s first housing “czar”,...."

Certainly this is likely to be proved correct in the main (and involving the concurrent training programme also necessary), the question is how much time will be wasted before this inevitable conclusion is drawn by the Minister, if at all?

Hopefully it will be measured in months rather than years

Unknown said...

We know now that he is not another John A Lee. At a public meeting a few years ago, when asked how he would fund new state housing, he replied that he would borrow money from off shore. When asked to explain the benefit of that rather than using reserve bank credit, he claimed using reserve bank credit would be inflationary.

Which of course gives me reason to roll my eyes.

Brendon Harre said...

There are a number of options for how Phil could build his way to affordable housing. Overseas there are a number of successful examples where cities produce affordable housing. The options include -sprawling outwards, building very high in a few locations, building highish everywhere, the private sector building the houses versus the public sector dominating the process. The following article gives a pretty good description of these options. http://www.sightline.org/2017/09/21/yes-you-can-build-your-way-to-affordable-housing/

I suspect that Jacinda's government is one based on pragmatism and what will work is a unique NZ hybrid combination that reflects our particular political, social, environmental and economic needs. Like the latest version of the TPP it may not be ideologically pure -but it will be an improvement. And more importantly, it may initiate a constructive process which keeps alive the hope that NZ has a revolutionary, once in a lifetime improvement in urban life where the largest rump of New Zealanders live.

Alasdair Thompson said...

Finding the money is the easy part, or at least could be. But we don’t have the trained resources needed, and will not either during the next 3 years. Neither is their agreement on where all these houses/ flats will go.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

We haven't trained enough builders for years. The industry doesn't do enough, prefers to have the government do it. Conservative governments can't be arsed and I tend to include Labour in this group. And if they do decide to have public-private partnerships I suspect that the private part will rip off all the money they can get while subtly sabotaging the results so that the policy doesn't work. We do actually need some mobilisation of resources similar to the 1930s. I lived in an ex-state house for some time, and it was solidly built, even though it was done by apprentices in training and there wasn't a right angle in the whole damn place. And it wasn't the sprawling palaces they seem to build today. Which brings me to another point, it's time SOME of these young people reduced their bloody expectations of what their first house is supposed to look like. They can start at the bottom like we did. (Crusty, I know.)

greywarbler said...

I refer you to some commenters recent point, that speculators aren't building houses now for families to live in. Rather they are investment items. No wonder they look so bloody soulless with their two storey spread and pseudo Greek columns blah. All the same, like a nightmare of being lost in a hostile seeming maze and unable to find one's own friendly door. Actually that is a metaphor for NZ for many people.

And what would solve some of the problems is to have some retired builders become site managers on suitable pieces of land set aside for working with young people to get simple sweat equity housing going. Perhaps have modules of 2 b'r houses side by side, and as a family improved their income and had a 2 or 3 children, the common wall could be breached, expansion,without them having to shift.

These passed on from The Standard.

sumsuch said...

'look down his nose', like me in my last jury. It didne work. Lack of faith in my ability to express myself successfully, hence the continuing dire opinions of my siblings.

Housing, such a challenge: it needs a fury of a person, a sun of broiling/replacing energy. Indeed, more a socialist than a liberal--we can pick'm from the 1935 government.

I remember Phil Twyford as a better time at Oxfam before the same disingenuous sales as the adopt-a-child Christian charities arrived there. Or, charity as a middle-class employment scheme.

60s UK minister Richard Crossman's diaries suggested he understood force was inherently needed to push forth a popular programme.

What I don't think this government understands is the cut across to the necessary is NEVER going to please 'the few'.

At some point, pop vox groups aside, persuasion is needed.

Slugger said...

John A Lee was the best minister going around for a generation or two.

Of course he put noses out of joint and ruffled the feathers of whoever got in his way.

The irony is that a block of pensioner flats were named after him in Auckland.

No knighthood or some such honour for the best. As a returned man who lost an arm he probably thought he couldn't loose his self-respect in the form of a knighthood as well.

I doubt Twyford has the balls to really achieve anything serious like John A Lee.

greywarbler said...

This caught my eye and is what I am noticing now. ... a better time at Oxfam before the same disingenuous sales as the adopt-a-child Christian charities arrived there. Or, charity as a middle-class employment scheme.

As the numbers of needy grow, the response is not to open up and give more individually, it is to look at the volume of need and see a business opportunity there, ie to start a Trust or a Charity to plug the gaps which carry emotional burrs that can't be easily brushed away. Those caused to start and compound by lack of decent governments with commitment to a good basic standard of living and employment,

David Stone said...

I have two nephews, brothers, in competition not in partnership, engaged in quite large scale property development in Auckland.
Not the Green voting side of the family.
One of them has been operating with conventional finance , borrowing the capital and taking the risk ( They've both been through bankruptcy, an essential part of a property developer's rite of passage), the other is selling off the plans, so that the luxury apartments are paid for before he starts spending money on construction. He was concerned about Labour's policy of stoping foreign buyers at first, ( for obvious pecuniary reasons) but now he realises that as new construction is exempt from those restrictions the policy will channel all the overseas investment money into his kind of financing structure.
So does anyone think that foreign speculators mind if they have to buy new houses instead of old ones? I don't.
Seeing that there is very limited land available to build on any domestically owned projects will have to compete with this kind of development. All developers in the private sector have this very attractive finance option available to them, and most will take that secure and the most profitable option.
With the government entering the market too, to work with developers to build first homes for young families the market will be further boosted, so prices will spiral on up perpetuating the speculative incentive for investors and continuing to outstrip the returns from letting by more than enough to make letting a foolish pointless risk and nuisance. So many many new apartments will remain empty, adding to the empty house syndrome that is a major contributor to the present housing problem that everyone has stopped talking about.
If they are to improve the accommodation situation they have to shoulder the responsibility of doing the whole job themselves as a state run project. They need to own the land, may need to requisition it from land bankers, (at valuation presumably), and be the developer ,and then keep the houses and apartments as state owned rental accommodation.
This is the only way the government can ensure that their investment continues to serve the purpose it is claimed to be trying to address. Five years is not a long time in the scheme of things. The present proposal will serve only the neoliberal agenda.
Thats what I think anyway.
Cheers D J S

sumsuch said...

Perhaps we should look at life as cycles, dire--America-- and benevolent --Scandinavia. We have it within us to slip toward Scandinavia. A little force on the part of those for the people would help. Y'know, like 65 years of struggle without reward in the case of Savage (and 70 years in the case of my g.grandfather (with much more reward, the old bugger)).