NZ Construction News

22 June 2007

A Concrete Solution to Affordable Housing-  March 2008

Patrick McGuire. Cement & Concrete Association of New Zealand (CCANZ)

Affordable housing is currently a major concern in New Zealand. The range of benefits offered by concrete construction must be considered in any proposed course of action, if this issue is to be effectively addressed.

House prices and the cost of renting have increased faster than household incomes over the past 20 years, making housing less affordable. New Zealand is facing significant societal change as home ownership becomes unattainable for a significant and growing cross-section of the community. Our main urban centres, in particular, are experiencing housing market pressure as people and investors are drawn to live, work and invest in progressive places.

Government attempts to address affordability issues have usually fallen into “demand side” interventions to increase the ability of people to purchase affordable housing or “supply side” interventions to reduce the cost of housing and/or directly or indirectly increase the supply of affordable housing.

In her annual address to Parliament in February, Prime Minister Helen Clark announced a package of initiatives, which mark, it is claimed, the beginning of a bold new direction in housing policy in New Zealand. The government aims to increase housing choices and reduce cost pressures so more people can realise the “Kiwi dream” of home ownership. It is believed that this is best achieved by building greater numbers of modest homes for first home-buyers, which will also help keep prices down overall.

Firstly, the government plans to build up large-scale housing developments involving partnerships between central, regional, and local government, and the private sector, to increase the amount of affordable housing being built. The overseas practice of Urban Development Agencies (UDAs) is being examined to determine if it would be appropriate in New Zealand to facilitate the development of master-plans for large scale projects.

Secondly, the government has announced it will support the development of the not-for-profit sector in order to provide more affordable rental and owner-occupied houses for lower-middle income families and individuals in high cost areas.

As it will take time to increase the numbers of affordable houses through these initiatives, the government is launching a shared equity scheme in July this year for people in high cost areas. This will involve the government taking an equity share in a home, and so bridge the gap between a family’s income and the price of a modest house, which would otherwise be unaffordable.

The government also intends to re-evaluate some of the regulatory costs, which while not the largest drivers of house price rises, have contributed to them. The Affordable Housing: Enabling Territorial Authorities Bill now before Parliament is yet another tool which the government hopes will soon be available to increase the affordable housing supply in some areas.

CCANZ shares the Government’s concern that affordable housing should be more readily available to those who wish to own their own homes or rent quality accommodation. However, any initiatives designed to increase the supply of quality, affordable, low-cost housing should not be restricted to lightweight timber options, as has traditionally been the case.

When affordability is more broadly considered in conjunction with sustainability values such as lifecycle costs, durability, health, energy efficiency and noise control, concrete construction in the residential housing sector offers a number of unique advantages.

Throughout New Zealand durability is of major concern, and concrete construction offers one of the most durable options available. Concrete is not only impervious to wilful damage, it is also fire resistant, provides excellent sound insulation, and security from intrusion. The benefits afforded by concrete construction are particularly relevant if high-density housing is considered as an option to alleviate the shortage of affordable housing.

When durability is considered together with maintenance costs, concrete construction can provide very effective lifecycle efficiencies far beyond the 50-years that the New Zealand Building Code mandates as a building’s minimum lifespan. A 50-year building life is too short a period to meet the Government’s long-term objectives for sustainability.

In terms of living environment, the use of concrete’s thermal mass and energy efficient design can contribute to lower heating (and cooling) costs, a factor which is of significant concern to those spending a substantial portion of their incomes on mortgages or rent. Recent research advises that by 2030, space cooling will become a major concern for much of New Zealand’s residential lightweight construction. The internal environments created using concrete are also likely to be more healthy and quiet.

Pilot projects such as the Housing New Zealand Corporation’s low-cost housing initiative, which commissioned innovative design solutions for affordable houses, clearly illustrate the benefits achievable when using concrete. There are many more opportunities for further research into modular affordable housing using concrete construction.

If the government is fully committed to making available quality, affordable, low-cost housing, then that commitment will be evident by the degree to which they integrate the range of unique benefits afforded by concrete construction.

For further information contact:

Adam Leach
Information & Communications Manager
Cement & Concrete Association of New Zealand
Level 6 / 142 Featherston Street
PO Box 448
Wellington 6140
Email: Ph: 04 915 0383 Fax: 04 499 7760
DDI: 04 915 0383  Web: