The Dim-Post

January 10, 2013

The idiocy of ‘keeping your powder dry’

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 10:51 am

The Herald reports:

The Labour Party housing policy for first-home buyers has struck a chord despite the Government’s attempts to write it off as expensive and unrealistic.

Just over 70 per cent of the 500 respondents in the Herald-DigiPoll survey approved of Labour’s promise to enter the housing market to build 100,000 low-cost homes over the next 10 years.

Labour leader David Shearer enjoyed a end-of-year boost in the polls, and conventional wisdom attributed this to the tough way he dealt to David Cunliffe, because if you’re a prestigious political commentator the idea that there are hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who have (a) never even heard of David Cunliffe but (b) desperately want to own their own home but can’t afford to enter the current market, is simply inconceivable. Anyway, the result is support for my crazy idea that opposition parties should spend time pointing out chronic problems that the government refuses to solve, and promise to solve them, and that people afflicted by those problems will then be disposed to vote for them.

(The one thing that mystifies me about Labour’s policy is that when I think affordable housing I think town-houses and other medium/high density options, but all the criticism has focused around costs of single homes on single sections, and I haven’t heard Labour rebut this. Maybe whoever developed the policy hasn’t explained it to their MPs properly?)

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49 Comments »

  1. Or maybe, whoever developed the policy is aware of some sort of apparent preference of a majority of homebuyers for single homes on single sections rather than apartments/town houses?

    Comment by Brad — January 10, 2013 @ 10:53 am

  2. “when I think affordable housing I think town-houses and other medium/high density options”

    Yes, I questioned that too and Labour insisted they had dealt with it in their media releases. Somewhere towards the bottom, as I recall, and their staged photo op was in a low-density single floor subdivision.

    When you say ‘house’ that’s what most NZers will imagine, even though it’s not the type of *home* increasing numbers of us will be living in, along with better shared public spaces and transport options. Leadership requires clearly articulating the future as well as connecting with today’s thinking.

    Comment by Sacha — January 10, 2013 @ 11:26 am

  3. Anyway, the result is support for my crazy idea that opposition parties should spend time pointing out chronic problems that the government refuses to solve, and promise to solve them, and that people afflicted by those problems will then be disposed to vote for them.

    I too have thought that oppositions could try something like that on occasion. Make the most of press gallery’s focus on question time, and then one day, ask six questions of six different ministers (PM, health, education, housing etc.) all about something like Rheumatic Fever. I live in wait.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — January 10, 2013 @ 11:32 am

  4. National used the “keeping your powder dry” strategy very effectively under Key. The difference is, National know that their policies are bad for the country, and so they benefit from keeping people in the dark. For Labour to copy this strategy is to assume a symmetry between the parties that simply isn’t there.

    Comment by pete — January 10, 2013 @ 11:37 am

  5. I know! When I think of low cost compact housing, I think of rows of terraced townhouses and haven’t been able to understand why a major political party would want each house to have its own section. I would understand if there were planning to spread the houses throughout the country, putting more in our large towns and smaller cities, but of all things they seem to be focusing on houses, all with their own individual sections, and most of them in Auckland.

    Comment by Dan — January 10, 2013 @ 11:40 am

  6. There is no policy. It was and is a soundbite that we can all agree with. Reality of course should tell us that it is a complete nonsense.
    No further detail has been released because there simply isn’t any.
    They seem to be learning from the Green Taliban in this regard. Make big aspirational fuzzy feel good announcements and then quickly move onto the next before you get tripped up.

    Comment by Barnsley Bill — January 10, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

  7. from the fact sheet
    “They will be range of sizes to accommodate
    the wide range of people looking for an affordable option, and will likely be on smaller land lots.
    Some will be stand alone and others in apartment blocks.”

    Comment by Luke C — January 10, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

  8. To a large extent the “housing crisis” is really the Auckland housing crisis. Homes are still reasonably affordable if you happen to live in Palmerston North or Nelson. Therefore, any solution to the countries housing problem has to tailored extensively for the Auckland market. building traditional detached bungalows in Napier is probably still fine; but in Auckland terraced townhouses tightly integrated into PT solutions and with green space might be more appropriate.

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 10, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

  9. I’m worried: when I apply for one of these dwellings, how will I prove that I voted for Labour?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — January 10, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

  10. “…when I apply for one of these dwellings, how will I prove that I voted for Labour..?”

    We socialists already know, which is also why we don’t support the second amendment.

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 10, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

  11. “Homes are still reasonably affordable if you happen to live in Palmerston North or Nelson.”
    It’s a shame the jobs aren’t there as well, so as to make it all perfect like.
    “second amendment” very good!

    Comment by Clunking Fist — January 10, 2013 @ 1:34 pm

  12. Anyone in Auckland who wants a single home on a single section had best get busy making some serious money. That horse has truly bolted, with 1.5m people living in the area and 2.2 million forecast for barely 20 years away. I nkow what people WANT…but either they can’t afford to buy it or they can’t afford to maintain it. Low-density residential development requires the most extensive and therefore expensive infrastructure. Shut up and pay your sky high rates. This is what you wanted.

    Or…begin to demand well-appointed, spacious apartments in higher-density areas close to public ransport. Get rid of the “body-corporate” scams that ruin most such developments.

    Comment by Steve (@nza1) — January 10, 2013 @ 1:40 pm

  13. I actually don’t know anyone that would prefer to live in so called vertical housing that Auckland so dearly wants to promote. Give me a standalone house on its own section any time. I want my own garden and trees

    Comment by Ron — January 10, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

  14. I thought it was the leased land under the development that caused the problems, not the body corps?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — January 10, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

  15. “…I actually don’t know anyone that would prefer to live in so called vertical housing that Auckland so dearly wants to promote…”

    Except high density is not necessarily high rise, to whit I point you to the excellent Auckland transport blog, IMHO required reading for anyone who wishes to comment knowledgably on the internet about Auckland housing or PT issues.

    http://transportblog.co.nz/2012/03/06/high-density-high-rise-not-necessarily-the-same-thing/

    Comment by Sanctuary — January 10, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

  16. “I actually don’t know anyone that would prefer to live in so called vertical housing that Auckland so dearly wants to promote. Give me a standalone house on its own section any time. I want my own garden and trees”

    I would. So long as they’re not total shit, which has been the main blocker in Auckland. Not that we’re against apartments. We just don’t want a shitty one. I would massively prefer to divest myself of the pointlessly large section with small house that I have, if it were both cheaper, and had a bigger floor area, and was more central. But that doesn’t exist, despite the fact that from a construction point of view, it should work out that way, and has in almost every other big city in the world.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — January 10, 2013 @ 3:07 pm

  17. We seem to be at only the early stages of the necessary generational tipping point where home ownership of a terraced house or unit becomes acceptable. Every other “big” city in the world went through this decades ago – we’re still holding on to owning single dwellings on sizeable sites, then complain when both rates and property prices are expensive?
    There was a classic “woh is the first home buyer” article late last year which pointed out the medium-density options that were springing up around Mt Wellington but the “poor couple” who wanted to buy for $400k wouldn’t look at it because it wasn’t a house on a big bit of land…

    Comment by garethw — January 10, 2013 @ 3:09 pm

  18. “I actually don’t know anyone that would prefer to live in so called vertical housing that Auckland so dearly wants to promote.”

    I’m one of them. Living on a section with property to maintain, gardening, lawn-mowing, etc, holds absolutely no appeal for me at all. I already live in an apartment, and I can happily say that a good apartment is far better than even the best stand-alone house, so far as I’m concerned. If only there weren’t such a shortage of liveable apartments, compared to the terrible, flimsy, shoe-box affairs that dominate Auckland’s apartment market.

    Comment by Alexis — January 10, 2013 @ 3:56 pm

  19. Couldn’t agree more. ‘Keeping your powder dry’ only really makes sense if you know/suspect your policy is actually fundamentally flawed and you don’t want to give your opponents/electorate time to figure out what the problems are.

    If you actually have genuine policy that addresses genuine problems, then you want to give the electorate plenty of time to understand and study your policies.

    Comment by RJL — January 10, 2013 @ 4:24 pm

  20. RJL – the intention of “keeping your powder dry” can also be to avoid someone stealing it, and preventing you from running on it (the policy to extend reading recovery to all schools, or whatever it was seems like this).

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — January 10, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

  21. Wanting to withhold policy details also suggests you may not back your own ability to keep creating new ones throughout the political cycle and communicate them well to voters. If the government adopts and implements your policies, you’ve also won.

    Comment by Sacha — January 10, 2013 @ 4:49 pm

  22. If the government adopts and implements your policies, you’ve also won.

    I’m not sure politicians think of it that way.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — January 10, 2013 @ 5:01 pm

  23. “I’m not sure politicians think of it that way”

    Another difference between the Greens and Labour at present, perhaps.

    Comment by Sacha — January 10, 2013 @ 5:15 pm

  24. Er what? The Greens snark as much as anyone about policy-stealing.

    Also I think the fear is not so much `other parties adopting your policies’ as `other parties countering with their own policies’. So Labour’s not worried Key will steal Kiwibuild; but they might be worried he’ll announce a more market-based set of solution to the housing problem. (Which won’t work, of course, but that’s a problem for the down the line.)

    Comment by Keir — January 10, 2013 @ 5:18 pm

  25. “The Greens snark as much as anyone about policy-stealing”

    Funny, Keir this is the only story I could find to back up your assertion: http://tvnz.co.nz/election-2011/greens-accuse-labour-copycat-politics-4514128

    Comment by Sacha — January 10, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

  26. >I’m not sure politicians think of it that way.

    People who change society do, though. Which isn’t always politicians.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — January 10, 2013 @ 10:00 pm

  27. Yes yes very cute Sacha. Now please show us all those places where Labour politicians are hugely upset (or even worried) about policy-theft?

    (Hint: theatrical complaints about how it’s unfair that such a great idea has been shamelessly pilfered, won’t somebody recognise the true genius of us to come up with it are not in fact real worries about other parties adopting policy.)

    Comment by Keir — January 10, 2013 @ 10:31 pm

  28. “Keeping your powder dry” can also be a cover for not having any thought-out policies (cause the focus group results could change between now and the election…)

    Comment by MeToo — January 10, 2013 @ 11:04 pm

  29. @ Clunking Fist – leased land apartments are just the worst of them; there are problems with apartments on owned land too. Body corporate fees are hugely disproportionate to what is offered/done, and the whole high-density thing is just a clever scam to fleece poor Kiwis from their already diminished pay. Most Kiwis do prefer stand-alone dwellings – whether on large or small sections (see Botany or Albany) for the independence! BBQ outdoors when you want, indoor-outdoor flow (try that from the 12th floor), and no arguments with stroppy neighbours about their lack of maintenance of common building structures.

    We have a friend in the end flat of 4; every time we clean her gutters out, we have to do the entire block, because otherwise the leaves in their gutters just reclog her gutters immediately. Poor design – yes. But ordinary folks don’t get to design and build their own home, let alone a terraced house. The joys of terraced house living. After all, it’s not like every major city in Europe has tried high density terraced houses and apartments and got expensive crime ghettos, is it?

    @ garethw – our rates in Auckland went up because National and ACT (and Labour originally) imposed a ‘Supercity’ merger, so the South Akld folks are now paying more in rates to cover the huge debt the north and west brought to the party, and the backlog of maintenance Remuera didn’t spend on their sewers because they wanted low rates.

    KiiwBuild is not needed if any party addressed the elephant in the room – the liberal immigration policies that see ‘skilled migrants’ almost exclusively pumping gas, selling liquor, clipping train tickets, etc while Kiwi-born unskilled workers don’t get a look in (because such jobs go off the radar – when did you last see a gas station job advertised? or a dairy, liquor store, takeaway, etc – even farmworkers now).

    Labour are keeping their powder dry because they are scared voters will see it goes bang just like National’s fireworks…

    Comment by bob — January 10, 2013 @ 11:38 pm

  30. Calling BS ON THIS;
    “South Akld folks are now paying more in rates to cover the huge debt the north and west brought to the party, ”
    The non Len voting areas haven hammered with massive rate rises whereas south Auckland escaped with barely a scratch. Our place on the shore hit with a seventeen percent with no improvements. An appeal has seen that reduced to 10%
    3k per year is theft.

    Comment by Barnsley Bill — January 11, 2013 @ 12:14 am

  31. Can I just say that if anyone in the Party has focus group’d policy, they’ve been fucking holding out on the people writing policy?

    Comment by Keir — January 11, 2013 @ 12:23 am

  32. Why not build communal housing where cooking, dining and laundries are large, shared rooms, clustered around edible gardens, play spaces etc? People’s private spaces of bedrooms, lounge, bathroom & kitchenette could be detached with a private garden/deck. This could suit Pasfika or other extended families really well, or anyone else who fancies a blend of communal living with private space to withdraw to. Put in rainwater storage, solar panels etc. Find a way to heat that stored rainwater & reticulate it for underfloor heating or radiators.

    Comment by Scintilla — January 11, 2013 @ 9:20 am

  33. “please show us all those places where Labour politicians are hugely upset (or even worried) about policy-theft?”

    Google is your friend, sir. But it’s a trick question, right? Wouldn’t you first have to announce some that weren’t in turn borrowed from elsewhere.. :)

    Comment by Sacha — January 11, 2013 @ 11:20 am

  34. Well let’s be honest, I don’t think anyone actually expects politicians to be doing blue skies policy work. All policies are taken from somewhere.

    Comment by Keir — January 11, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

  35. >Well let’s be honest, I don’t think anyone actually expects politicians to be doing blue skies policy work. All policies are taken from somewhere.

    Yes the only real expectation is that they might pick some and then communicate them to the public. Even better, unthinkably pie-in-the-sky except that the Greens have been doing it for years, would be to communicate *all* their policy. They do, after all, need to actually *have* a great deal, presumably, when they take over running the entire country. Or is that a confused view of how representative government works? In reality, policy is actually set by tradition and the civil service, and politicians are just there to shine a light on a tiny fraction of them through which they seek to differentiate themselves from the other party that is 99% the same in reality? If that is really how it’s done, then small wonder that we have a declining turnout, particularly for the main party that is supposed to be an agent of change. Is the choice really meant to be between competent and incompetent (and by the end of term, overly competent) conservatives?

    Comment by Ben Wilson — January 11, 2013 @ 12:55 pm

  36. “In reality, policy is actually set by tradition and the civil service, and politicians are just there to shine a light on a tiny fraction of them through which they seek to differentiate themselves from the other party that is 99% the same in reality?”

    @ ben wilson – sadly, your summary is correct. So you are right – that does explain the plunging turnout. Why vote for a different set of free market capitalist managers (Act, Nats, Labour, Dunne, Maori, even Greens)? Mana are the only non-free market party in Parliament right now. Only thing is – these free marketeers are actually *liberal* capitalists – both socially liberal and economically. Vis David Farrar, Odgers, Mallard, Shearer, Goff, etc all espousing liberal values. Cunliffe’s great sin was pushing Keynesian (interventionist) capitalism.

    @ Barnsley Bill – you can call my views anything you like mate, but you may want to check the debt levels of the legacy Auckland councils first. The southern councils – Franklin, Papakura and especially Manukau, brought cold hard cash to the party; Auckland City were a bit in debt, Waitakere heavily indebted, and North Shore ($250m!!) and Rodney were in deep trouble.

    Manukau water rates have doubled to pay for your stormwater and sewage upgrades, and while some small pockets of south Auckland got rates similar to the past, most have had rates rises as hefty as yours (which is proportionately more on our lower rating base).

    Ex-Labour party President Mike Williams was on National Radio saying his Westie rates had gone down, which proved he was overcharged before! When in truth the south were now paying for the debt that his old rates hadn’t even covered then… staggering self deception.

    Oh, and because our assets were new or recently upgraded, our Local Boards are now getting no funding, as all the cash goes to fix up the run down or build the non-existent assets in central Auckland and up north. Enjoy them – we’re paying ;)

    Comment by bob — January 11, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

  37. bob @ 28, I played the role of body corp secretary a few decades ago. My memory of it was that the power to spend/not spend was in the (collective) hands of the owners. Not sure why body corp fees would get out of control?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — January 11, 2013 @ 1:26 pm

  38. Communal living!
    Teepees in the domain?

    Comment by Barnsley Bill — January 11, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

  39. Even better, unthinkably pie-in-the-sky except that the Greens have been doing it for years, would be to communicate *all* their policy.

    Ok. First, let’s be clear, the Greens don’t communicate all their policy. The Greens pick five things that they think are important votewinners, and they hammer them. It’s really good, really disciplined, really top-down, really mass media driven electioneering, and they are ruthless about staying on message. It’s not communicating all their policy.

    OK, so then the next thing is: does Labour articulate policy well? Well, no. (Although, the fifth Labour government.) That’s a big part of the reason we changed the way Labour does policy.

    Comment by Keir — January 11, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

  40. http://www.greens.org.nz/policy/full

    http://www.national.org.nz/policy.aspx

    http://www.labour.org.nz/content/labour-policy

    Keir, could you direct me to where I could peruse Labour’s policy? The link is a fucking joke, I felt like I’d been spam linked into a circle jerk. As for the Greens, there’s a shitload more than 5 things there. And National seem to have got their act together since the last election, where their policy page had the equivalent of “no comment” under most of the headings.

    I don’t know about “communicating policy” because I personally prefer to see something calling itself policy listed out, rather than released in a dripfeed of bumbling soundbites, followed up by talking heads discussing them. I wasn’t talking about that process, it’s something I scarcely notice since I don’t watch TV news much.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — January 12, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

  41. “We seem to be at only the early stages of the necessary generational tipping point where home ownership of a terraced house or unit becomes acceptable. Every other “big” city in the world went through this decades ago”

    Dunedin went through this in the 1870s, and seemed to slip back over the next 50 years.

    Comment by kahikatea — January 12, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

  42. “our rates in Auckland went up because National and ACT (and Labour originally) imposed a ‘Supercity’ merger, so the South Akld folks are now paying more in rates to cover the huge debt the north and west brought to the party, and the backlog of maintenance Remuera didn’t spend on their sewers because they wanted low rates.”

    You’re talking about small changes at the margins. I’m talking about the logically high rate bills we all face when we demand low-density, wide-sprawl property. Infrastructure (of all kinds) has to be built over larger scales divided over few people. If you want to pay that, for your single house/plot of land lifestyle then fair enough, but don’t complain when you have to…

    Comment by garethw — January 12, 2013 @ 8:20 pm

  43. Different people have different needs, and sometimes the same person has different needs at different times of life. It’s good for large cities to have a range of densities available, from high-rise apartments and terraced houses to quarter acre sections and lifestyle blocks. High-density living only seems to have a lower land footprint if you ignore that the people living there also require land elsewhere to to produce the food, fibre, and other products they consume, and increasingly in the future, land to grow the fuel to get it to them.

    Comment by Strypey — January 14, 2013 @ 12:59 am

  44. @Strypey 12:59 am

    I’m pretty sure that most of the people on 400, 800 and 1000 m2 sections are not growing their own food on that land.

    @Ron
    “I actually don’t know anyone that would prefer to live in so called vertical housing that Auckland so dearly wants to promote. Give me a standalone house on its own section any time. I want my own garden and trees”

    Each to their own. We currently own a 3bdrm home on a 400m section on the North Shore in Glenfield but are keen to upgrade to a nice townhouse or low rise apartment in suburb close to shops or beach. When we visited our family in Sydney they had a nice place in a block of 16 apartments (4 storeys). There is a serious lack of these kinds of options in Auckland. I would trade in our lawns and the weekly mowing for a 1/16th share in a swimming pool in a heartbeat!

    I think the banks lending policies are a big problem for this kind of development. From a supply side – Individuals don’t build apartment blocks it tends to be consortiums and the savings pool is not big so it tends to be borrowed money – the banks stopped lending large amounts to property developments back in 2008 with the financial crisis when they got burned. From a demand side – It’s harder for first home buyers to buy apartments because the banks demand a higher deposit (the risk of a price drop is higher because there is no land) but this has the effect of bidding up land values and incentivising people into low density.
    Government could definitely act as a circuit breaker for this vicious cycle – If Kiwibuild was mostly focussed around small blocks of quality terraced housing and low rise apartments it’d be a great success.

    Comment by Richard29 — January 14, 2013 @ 1:31 pm

  45. >There is a serious lack of these kinds of options in Auckland. I would trade in our lawns and the weekly mowing for a 1/16th share in a swimming pool in a heartbeat!

    Totally. Moving from village life to city life isn’t all loss. We should have both options here, with a smooth gradation between. ‘Burbs might appeal for a while, with young children, but that’s not my whole life, indeed it’s not going to be much longer at all.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — January 14, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

  46. Globally, people are sort of moving towards an agrarian society, and as NZ has been one of the greatest farming nations on earth since the 1800’s, I can’t see why spending money on building houses in our largest city will:
    1. Create employment, which is really the problem beneath it all
    2. Reduce pollution, another major problem at the moment, globally speaking, and of course will affect us more if we go in the big city direction
    3. Be sustainable. Jobs in cities do not generally involve farming, forestry, fishing, etc, so what happens when the global economy does not recover in a steady steep way? Are we going to be building houses for pride, or for sensibility, because sensibility isn’t really reflected in these plans.

    Comment by Dan — January 14, 2013 @ 3:44 pm

  47. Globally, people are sort of moving towards an agrarian society,..

    …or in fact, completely the opposite.

    “Since the world is projected to continue to urbanize, 60 per cent of the global population is expected to live in cities by 2030.”

    Thanks UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

    Comment by Gregor W — January 14, 2013 @ 3:54 pm

  48. Dan
    1. Employment in the farming sector has been shrinking for, like, ever. That’s one of the main drivers of urban drift, people wanting a job, going to a city, and getting one.
    2. Bigger cities don’t pollute more *per head* unless they become industrial centers. Even then, since our farming is highly industrialized, they’ve got one hell of a long way to go before they catch up with the pollution created by the farming sector.
    3. Cities are “sustainable”. Many have been around for thousands of years. They’re designed to minimize resource utilization in the delivery of things humans want, which is their very reason for existing. Even in farming communities, people made villages for a reason. They didn’t want to walk 10 miles every time they wanted to see the blacksmith, or buy some crops off someone else.

    In other words, you’ve got everything exactly backwards.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — January 14, 2013 @ 5:36 pm

  49. interesting looking new book:
    “ROBERT DALZIEL, a London-based architect, has always considered contemporary housing in Britain to be deficient. After years spent researching urban housing around the world with Sheila Qureshi-Cortale, a fellow architect, the pair collected their findings in a book. “A House in the City” evaluates the various examples, new and old, high-rise and low.”

    http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2013/01/qa-robert-dalziel?fsrc=nlw|newe|1-14-2013|4609454|37405293|

    Comment by Clunking Fist — January 15, 2013 @ 1:06 pm


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