Auckland is at a turning point in how it must think about and deliver housing solutions. According to Statistics New Zealand’s medium projections, Auckland’s population is anticipated to grow by a further 517,000 people in the next 20 years. This growth will be driven by natural increase (births minus deaths) as well as net in-migration from other parts of New Zealand and overseas, and will drive the demand for an increasing number of dwellings. Further to this, increasing diversity in household structure and size, an ageing population, and increasing divergence of the ability to afford the costs of housing will drive demand for a variety of appropriate and affordable housing solutions. All of this is occurring in a broader context of a desire to curb urban sprawl and realise the efficiencies of a ‘compact city’ approach.
The issue of enabling and encouraging supply-side factors to meet this demand is a priority for Auckland Council, and for central government. The Auckland Plan includes a priority to ‘increase housing choice to meet diverse preferences and needs’. The Plan also proposes an urban form for Auckland of a ‘quality compact city’ with up to 70% of growth occurring within the 2012 Metropolitan Urban Limit (MUL) over 30 years, but with flexibility for up to 40% outside the MUL. This emphasis on future ‘intensification’ within the urban area is reflected in the bold new vision of the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan, with its provisions for a range of building heights and density within the existing urban area.
Much of Auckland’s future housing stock already exists, and it is predominantly detached dwellings – 75% of dwellings at the 2013 census were stand-alone. This city has a long tradition of building, owning and living in stand-alone houses. It’s what we are used to. A dominant narrative continues to perpetuate that households prefer stand-alone dwellings and that the market is delivering what people want.
But when was the last time we checked that out? To what extent is the new housing coming on-line meeting the current and future needs of Aucklanders? To what extent is the dream of owning a ‘quarter-acre pavlova paradise’ still relevant?
These questions were at the heart of The Housing We’d Choose study, recently completed by Market Economics and Research First on behalf of Auckland Council. The study adds an important contribution to our understanding of the demand side of the housing equation. It is based on work previously undertaken in Australia, and included a sophisticated choice exercise in which respondents had to choose from a discrete set of housing types and sizes, within their own financial constraints. It also asked Aucklanders what was important to them when thinking about choosing a place to live. The central aim was to explore what Auckland households would choose to live in, if a wider range of options was available.
In sum, the research found that households would choose a much broader range of housing types and sizes across Auckland, if it was available. They would trade-off housing type and location for adequate size (large or small) and price. Furthermore, there is a ‘mis-match’ in several parts of Auckland between the types of housing that people said they would choose and new housing that is coming on line.
The quarter acre pavlova paradise dream is not dead yet, but it’s not universal. The Housing We’d Choose study found there remains a general underlying preference for stand-alone houses, and a deep connection to owning a piece of land for many, particularly among households with children. Over half (52%) chose detached options, if they could afford them. Over half rated a stand-alone house as being ‘very important’ when they were thinking about choosing a place to live, and quite a few of those who chose a townhouse /unit or apartment, particularly those in buildings that were ‘low rise’ (up to four stories), made a comment along the lines that they would actually have preferred a stand-alone dwelling.
But while the majority of households will still demand stand-alone detached housing, this demand is more than satisfied by the existing stock of housing. The real gap in the market is higher density attached dwellings and apartments within the high amenity established suburbs. A quarter (25%) of respondents chose an attached unit or townhouse, 15% chose an apartment in a building up to four storeys, and 8% chose an apartment in a building five storeys or higher. Many indicated they were very happy with that choice – particularly older people living in couples-only situations or on their own.
The research shows that people would choose different housing types across Auckland than currently exist, particularly in the areas away from the city centre. When we compared what people said they would choose with what’s coming on line (using Statistics New Zealand building consent data from January 2013 to March 2015) we found that there was a general over-supply of stand-alone dwellings, particularly in south Auckland and on the isthmus, and a corresponding under-supply of attached options in all sectors outside of the city center. The north shore coastal area was the only sector to show a general under-supply of all housing types coming on line.
The research also reminded us of an important corollary to any emphasis on the types of housing that Auckland households would choose – that is, the cultural shift that faces Auckland as we embrace a future of living in new housing formations and in closer quarters. As Auckland’s population continues to diversify ethnically, culturally, and across age and socio-economic lines, new neighbourhoods are being delivered, old neighbourhoods are facing real change, and people are being asked to live closer together than they have before. It was apparent through participants’ comments in the focus groups and in the surveys that people want to feel safe and they want their kids to be safe. They want a sense of privacy from the outside world, and for many that meant not being able to be seen by others inside their own home. For many this was not something that living closer together in more intensified housing styles could offer.
Much of this can be mitigated by quality design and build, continuing to learn from overseas examples and what has worked in the past, as well as efforts to increase a sense of neighbourliness, tolerance and community spirit.
The full title of this study is The Housing We’d Choose: A study into housing preferences, choices and trade-offs in Auckland. It was commissioned by the Research and Evaluation Unit (RIMU) within Auckland Council and is a component of Auckland Council’s 12 point Housing Action Plan. The findings will be used to inform a range of housing policy responses and discussion. The full report can be found on the Knowledge Auckland website.