Although the news yesterday was full of journos saying that they had not expected Jacinda Ardern to announce her resignation first thing in the morning, in reality it was always going to happen. This is a blog (an out-dated concept, left behind in the maelstrom of the toxic twittersphere, I know) that usually confines itself to the somewhat drier, non-political subjects of Architecture, Urban Design, and the woes and wherefores of Wellington’s tediously drawn-out Mass Rapid Transport project that I fear will not even be started before I die. But it was big news, I’ll give you that, and apart from the tears and the gallant fisherman and the wee bairn, and a brilliantly stage-managed way to take the wind out of National’s sails, our PM Jacinda has made the right decision. Although politicians say it all the time, in this case I think it may actually really be true: she wants to spend more time with her family.
I want to look back at her legacy for the country – or should I say, the legacy for the party she led, during the past 5 years, in architectural terms. Yes, she performed wonderfully and was a bloody good emotional leader through the horrific slaughter down in Christchurch by that crazed fuckwit Australian murderer, and through the volcanic balls-up at Whakari as well, where our tourist industry almost died a horrible death as well as a score of tourists. She also kept the country clamped down on the good Doctor Ashley’s advice, without doubt saving tens of thousands of people’s lives. Proportionally, we have one of the lowest Covid death rates in the world, due to the simple fact of keeping us still and immobile until the scientists developed a reasonable vaccine, a simple fact that the idiots who invaded Parliament still can’t comprehend.
But there were side effects on the country – no worse than any other country – and that was business and business confidence. Yes, it would have been politically more truthful and honest to say right at the start of the whole Covid lock-down thing that: People will die, Businesses will go bust, and the Tourism / Hospo industry should find other jobs for the next 4 years, starting immediately. It seemed obvious to me, so I can’t figure out why the heck it wasn’t obvious to the people actually in the industry. Some places understood, and acted promptly, like the Bresolin, a favourite eatery that shut up shop for good back in 2020 when Level 2 lockdown ensued. It must have been a tough decision to make – but for many hospo businesses, it was realistically the only decision to make. But the hospitality industry is not the architectural industry, I hear you say! True, but one industry occupies the buildings of the other – and then the other celebrates by drinking at the businesses of the first, if you follow my queasy, late night logic.
The media are already frothing at the bit as I write, with Andrea Vance getting really bitchy, stuff writer Luke Malpass keeping it straight, while veteran reporter Josie Pagani totally goes all knives out in an assassination attempt. Yes, the country has changed, but then so has the world, over the past 3 years. We have a homeless problem – welcome to the club. Everywhere has a homeless problem. Our immigration is buggered – so is every other country. We don’t have enough housing – nor does any country, or so it seems, despite the fact that everyone has left town and returned home to their own country. All these points are inter-related of course – our construction industry needs builders and labourers, just as much as our fruit-picking industry. Our baristas have all gone back to Brazil, while our nurses have decamped back to the Phillipines. The labourers were all from Thailand but have now vanished, and in Europe, even the Poles have gone home to Poland. The world economy, a rocky, cliff-top teetering act at the best of times, has just realised that right now is really not the best of times at all. Putting it bluntly, in world economy terms, we’re all fucked, because our governments made up a whole lot of money that didn’t exist, and then gave it away to stop all our jobs disappearing over the Covid years.
But there are some fantastic achievements, which the media have not yet remembered, particularly on the housing front. Although it consumed one Minister (Phil Twyford, remember him?) who was left out to dry over an over-ambitious number of possible houses, and Housing and Construction and other portfolios were traded back and forth in an undignified fashion between various somewhat incompetent ministers, we finally ended up with Megan Wood, who has actually been quietly getting on with building Kainga Ora into an awesome construction machine. Is it right that the Government are building new dwellings? Or do you believe, like National and ACT do, that “the market” will provide? If so, you’re dreaming!
If you cast your mind back to the years of John Key and Bill English, Gerry Brownlee and Nick Smith, collectively the most unimaginative and stultifying group of men that ever walked on planet Earth, remember that Blinglish wanted the Housing Corp to sell off its housing portfolio, under the mis-guided belief that “the market economy would provide” houses for the poor, houses for the middle class, and houses for the rich. Well, two out of three ain’t bad, as Meatloaf once sang. Blinglish could not, would not say that we had a housing crisis, even as the streets filled up with mothers and children sleeping in cars. Brownlee, clearly out of his depth as a woodwork teacher, was asked to mastermind the rebuild of Aotearoa’s second biggest city, and promptly demolished the entire city down to bare gravel. It is unbelievable that he still exists in Parliament, hanging on for grim death until he can get the chance to be in Government again, and now he is ear-marked as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, undoubtedly looking forward to Government paid foreign travel on several whirlwind tours around the globe shaking hands before he dies.
Sorry – rant over. Got sidetracked. Must not dwell on the past – must stay relentlessly focused on a future founded on relentless positivity, as Ardern did when she was first elected. Let’s have a quick look at the Kainga Ora annual report for 2021-22, which is the most up-to-date report on their work that I can find. They say:
“Despite the challenges, we continue to provide homes at unprecedented levels. Alongside
our build partners and contractors, we have delivered over 10,900 newly built public and support houses in five years, with thousands more to come. The gross 1,815 new homes delivered in 2021/22 represented an increase of close to 290 per cent on 2016/17 figures.” and then goes onto say:
“In the past year, Kāinga Ora delivered more than 1,815 gross (and 1,340 net) newly-built public and supported homes. We continue to increase the number of newly-built homes and replace our stock that is at the end of its useful life. We are also making more of our older homes warmer, drier and healthier by retrofitting 354 homes and upgrading over 19,000 additional homes which meet the Healthy Homes Standards. Our urban development programme has been paving the way for our 15- to 20-year build programme to deliver more than 37,000 homes to meet significant regional demand. Last year we completed civil construction works on more than 86 superlots for our development partners that will enable delivery of over 1,800 public, affordable and market homes.”
So it would seem that at it’s present rate, KO is providing a steady stream of around 1800-2200 new houses per year. This is a different figure from KiwiBuild, which had originally targeted 10,000 new homes per year (100,000 over ten years), but remember that KB was aiming at new homes for sale, whereas KO is all about retaining ownership of homes by the state. Completely different beasts. And yes, we all know now that KB really never worked at all, having delivered only handfuls of houses over the Ardern years, but we should all be proud of the achievements of KO over this same period. It was said once that NZ had a national State housing shortfall of about 50,000 houses. That target of 37,000 houses by KO will take, at current build rates and funding rates, between 16-20 years to achieve, and reach 75% of the target, but if we are still short of 100,000 workers to fill the boots of baristas and apple-pickers, the private sector somehow also needs to step up to provide many thousands of houses as well. Houses not for the rich, and not for the middle classes, but rentable housing by the working class of Aotearoa, which seems to be the next looming great hole for us to face.
But will KO be allowed to continue to to build at the same rate if National & ACT get back in? It is a prodigiously expensive machine to run. Although, thankfully, Blinglish, Smith and Jonkey are all gone from the scene, the reins are in the hands of the bland blamange of Luxton, with Nicola Willis and Chris Bishop as deputies, and the evil twisted stepmother figure of Judith Collins hiding close behind. I’m really puzzled by the media fawning over these people – having met Willis and Bishop, I’m really not impressed. Bishop is as thick as a plank of wood, if not two planks, and yet is also earmarked for the portfolios of Infrastructure, Housing, RMA Reform and Urban Development, which does not bode well for NZ.
Meanwhile, Willis is devoid of personality. However, Willis is also the brains behind the National side of the MDRS debacle that the country has been foist with, being the only piece of legislation (ever?) that both Nat and Labour have agreed on, with Megan Wood equally to blame. I think we all know that this policy will ultimately end in tragedy, on architectural terms anyway. Bill English may get his way after all, having said many years ago, that the answer to the housing crisis was going to have to be that “we would have to get a little bit ugly” in terms of design. God help us if National get back in.