Housing in the headlines … and Granny Flats

As we pass the halfway point of 2024 details of the Coalition Government’s direction setting on a raft of salient fronts for urban design – namely infrastructure, resource management, transport and housing – continue to emerge, piece by piece.

Since the policy watch put together here in March, some of the most visible areas of activity have been the controversial Fast-Track Approvals Bill, the release of the review into Kainga Ora and decisions taken within the 2024 Budget in May.

In April the UDF submitted on the Draft Government Policy Statement for Transport (see here) and on 27 June Transport Minister Simeon Brown released the final GPS 2024 which lays out the transport objectives for the next 10 years, with a heavy focus on new roads.

The Government pattern of releasing quarterly Action Plan documents is now in place, with the Q3 Action Plan released this week. It includes plans to:

  • Pass the second Local Water Done Well Bill requiring councils to deliver plans for financially sustainable water services, replacing the previous Government’s Three Waters regime.
  • Introduce legislation to eliminate barriers to overseas building products being used in New Zealand.
  • Release the draft of the second Emissions Reduction Plan.
  • Take Cabinet decisions to establish a new National Infrastructure Agency.
  • Take Cabinet decisions on the scope of RMA and National Direction amendments.
  • Take Cabinet decisions on work programme to replace the RMA with a system premised on the enjoyment of property rights.
  • Take Cabinet decisions on the final design of the Government’s one-stop shop consenting and permitting scheme, incorporating sensible changes suggested through the select committee process.
  • Gazette amendments to the National Policy Statement for Highly Productive Land to specified infrastructure and farming activities on highly productive land.

Changes with a heavy impact on the housing and home building front

May’s Budget presented a range of cuts to the Government’s housing spend, with particular but undetermined impacts for Māori housing and emergency housing.

One of the items that was ticked off in the Q2 Action plan alongside the Kainga Ora review was to take decisions on rolling out National’s Going for Housing Growth policy while making the MDRS optional for councils.

Steps to enable foreign investment in ‘build to rent’’ housing are also in the mix.

Changes at Kainga Ora include the announced resignation of CEO Andrew Mackenzie and a shuffling-out of five board directors as reported by Newsroom this week, and the swift appointment of new directors charged with a new letter of expectations. In addition to the new chair, Simon Moutter, who was appointed in May, the new Kainga Ora board members are Arihia Bennett, Jenn Bestwick, Alan Dent, Peter Jeffries, Ceinwen McNeil and Fiona Mules. (Their brief bios are available here).

It is worth noting that the previous Board had contested key aspects of the Kainga Ora review.

The Ministry for Housing and Urban Development has recently issued a clarification of plans for delivery of new housing by community housing providers and on Thursday 4 July the Ministe for Housing (and Infrastructure, and RMA Reform), Chris Bishop delivered a speech to the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand that projected a slew of housing and planning changes in line with the Housing for Growth Policy mentioned above.

The full speech is available here, and its release was accompanied by a statement titled Going for Housing Growth stage one unveiled and three fact sheets:

‘Granny flats’ grabbed headlines in June – more than a distraction?

The opening of consultation, under the auspices of MBIE and Ministry for the Environment, on proposals to enable granny flats up to 60 square metres to be built without needing a building or resource consent has been gaining headlines. It has implications as well for options under the Building Act and Resource Management Act.

A lengthy period for feedback on the proposals is open until 12 August.

The introduction to the Discussion Document, titled ‘Making It Easier to Build Granny Flats’, begins with this definition:

‘Granny flat’ is a common term to describe a small, self-contained house. These are also known as secondary or ancillary dwellings, family flats, minor dwellings, self-contained small dwellings and minor residential units.

There is also a note that such buildings are already permitted in many district plans across the country with the added comment that there’s “a lack of consistency and different standards across the country”.

It’s notable that minor dwellings of up to 65sqm are already permitted in the single house zone and up to three dwellings are permitted in the other residential zones in the Auckland Unitary Plan. A relevant Practice and Guidance Note (dated August 2022) is available here.

UDF committee member Anthony Vile, Urban Design Lead at Context, shares a concern that granny flats might end up being jammed on to sites in ways that negatively compromise storm water runoff, especially in view of the impacts that severe weather can have on urban areas and non-permeable surfaces.

Anthony points out that albeit at a smaller scale this is about intensification and requires careful consideration to avoid undermining existing standards and to take accompanying needs and demands into account.

He agrees with AUT professor of construction John Tookey that any form of increase in housing densification is bound to put more pressure on infrastructure and services, like drinking water, sewage, roads, schools and GPs.

Anthony: “There is quite a bit happening in this space around use of the terminology Accessory Dwelling units or ADU. In the USA for instance there have been some interesting design competitions that have been held in Los Angeles”.

He recommends UDF members read a recent  article at Archdaily.com offering up some of the lessons that have been learnt from Los Angeles.

Further media coverage and reading

Interestingly former PM John Key floated the prospect of introducing rules for granny flats to be built on the back of Housing New Zealand sites so that older tenants could stay while new families took the bigger home, as reported in a 2016 article at the Spinoff and mentioned in their recent coverage.

In addition Spinoff journalist Stewart Sowman-Lund dug out two Stuff stories: one from 2020 on the question of whether second dwellings could really help address our housing crisis and another on the scale of consenting costs from 2018.

As reported by RNZ responses from Labour and some housing providers to the new proposals have been generally supportive.

Elsewhere Sharla May, the founder and director of the Tiny House Hub, Tiny House Expo, and Landshare, wrote an opinion piece for Stuff titled Granny flat reforms are ‘a false hope’ for tiny home owners and University of Auckland research fellow Dr Claire Dale echoed similar thoughts in an article on Newsroom titled Tiny house or granny flat? What a difference a name makes

Kelvin Davidson, chief economist at CoreLogic, has commented that CoreLogic research in Australia from 2023 showed considerable potential for granny flats. In Sydney, it was estimated that the number of possible sites could be equivalent to as much as 17.6% of existing dwelling stock, with 13.2% in Melbourne and 23.3% in Brisbane.

Further reading:

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