New Zealand Housing Adventures: From Kiwibuild Disaster To De-Zoning Heaven?

An arial view of Aukland New Zealand by the sea.
14 years ago, when this picture was taken, Aukland's housing prices were going up. Currently, they have stabilized. What happened?

At the height of New Zealand’s 2017 fever dream of 100,000 new housing units, we were perplexed. Us Canadians had duly noted that New Zealand lacked the resources to actually build out the promise of a catchy new Kiwibuild government housing commitment.

And somewhere along the way, we, together with a large number of Kiwis, had been fired up by a notion that the housing was to be affordable. So when the first house rolled off the assembly line, a great many folks including ourselves were buffaloed to discover that doctors and marketing professionals were the first chosen to live in this revolutionary new ‘affordable???’ housing1. Not surprising that wound up scratching its head.

That was just the start of what became a New Zealand national embarrassment. Kiwibuild turned out to be a kind of slow motion train wreck, a fleet of over-engined calamity cabooses that were finally chased off the tracks by a government admission that the program was unaffordable and deserved little more than a mercy killing.

Well, New Zealand housing is back in the news with a promise not only for their own growing affordable housing crisis, but some evidence that the YIMBY movement, writ worldwide, has more than hot air to offer growing housing unaffordability.

This particular housing revolution begins in the city of Aukland, where in 2016 that city bought in to the Yes In My Back Yard (YIMBY) rhetoric and deregulated city neighbourhoods. NIMBYites crying Not In My Back Yard, were to be slapped down. Free-market developers would be invited to invade and go bonkers with all manner of housing. The theory: more houses would bring down housing prices, making housing generally more affordable

Cynics, such as, were inclined to believe that canny developers would manage their invasion of the ‘burbs’ so as to maximize their profits without so much as tickling the endlessly rising price of housing. Maybe their nefarious ways would somehow control construction to maximize profit-realizing, ever-increasing housing prices.

Turns out the cynics were wrong. Turns out that indeed in Aukland the free market went bonkers building new homes. The deregulation part of the YIMBY promise certainly worked to get more housing built.

But what about bringing down housing affordability? In the fullness of time, there is now evidence that Aukland housing prices have more or less flatlined, while housing prices continued to soar in New Zealand’s other cities.

Does the Aukland experience present an important validation of YIMBY thought that might be adopted in countries worldwide?

Here are two articles covering this story, one from Australia’s Financial Review: How Auckland took on the NIMBYs and won

and the second with a UK perspective, in The Spectator[efn_noteThe Spectator has a multi-offer free read system. You will need sign up with an email address to access any of them.[/efn_note]: Has New Zealand found the key to the UK’s housing crisis?


  1. Try: The Lightbulbs Go On In New Zealand: Oh . . . You Mean THAT Kind Of Affordable Housing