Mission: Delivering adequate housing and our infrastructure needs for the 21st century


According to the New Zealand Human Rights Commission we face a combined housing and human rights crisis.[1] Successive governments have made commitments to housing as a human right, as set out in multiple international statues.[2] New Zealand is a signatory to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which identifies the right to adequate housing as a fundamental and inalienable human right.[3] Housing should be seen first and foremost as a place to live, rather than an investment to maximise and extract profits at the expense of basic human needs.

It’s also time to address our reliance on cars. We need a strategy to tackle the many barriers to delivering mass transport options such as light and heavy rail. Housing in urban centres should be built within walking distance of amenities and frequent, affordable, and reliable public transport routes.

Untethered growth makes our cities and communities less liveable, more car-dependent and inequitable. High density done well will mean high-amenity areas, low travel times, affordable house prices and a smaller carbon footprint. It also improves economic development and job opportunities.  Density done poorly can cause more harm to environments and wellbeing.

Challenge: Lack of adequate housing and an infrastructure deficit

There is no single agency responsible for addressing adequate housing and infrastructure resilience. There is insufficient coordination in the public sector to tackle climate change. Development is often piecemeal, and we deliver infrastructure behind demand.

Not only do we have a housing shortage in New Zealand, but the quality of our housing is also in crisis. Households who rent (roughly 30% of New Zealanders) are nearly twice as likely to live in cold, damp, and mouldy housing as homeowners.[1] While the current Government has introduced healthy homes standards, compliance is not being met.[2] According to the Ministry of Health, in 2021, more than 9,500 children aged under 6 were hospitalised with illnesses such as respiratory tract infections and meningitis likely caused by inadequate housing.[3]

In 2020, when UN Special Rapporteur Leilani Farhare declared New Zealand’s housing crisis a human rights crisis, she highlighted the following challenges: “At the root of the crisis is a speculative housing market that has been supported by successive governments who have promoted homeownership as an investment, while until recently discontinuing the provision of social housing and providing inadequate tenant protection”.[4]

The cost of housing in New Zealand is significantly contributing to our growing wealth inequality. The housing wait list in New Zealand currently sits at over 26,000 despite record numbers of statehouse builds being completed and commissioned.[5] [6] Earlier this year median rent in Wellington hit 97% of a minimum wage workers take home pay and real incomes have been declining for over a decade. In 2021, a minimum wage earner on $20 per hour would need to put in an additional 6 hours labour, almost a full day’s extra work, just to cover rent for the same property in 2009.[7]

QUOTE: “If you don’t inherit a home or funds from the Bank of Mum and Dad, you won’t own your own home, no matter how hard you work and save. We’ve calculated that the average Auckland earner would need to save for 17 years for a 20% home deposit, let alone paying off their mortgage. The social divide is already a chasm.”- Dot Loves Data director Tamsyn Hilder [8]

We know that the investments necessary to achieve this mission have not been made over the last few decades. There is a $104 billion infrastructure gap across the public sector and a further $106 billion gap in funding for infrastructure across the next 30 years.[9] Basic essentials, like clean drinking water, now require decades of reinvestment to be functional.[10] Nowhere is this clearer than in the provision of state housing, where supply of state housing lagged demand for many years.[11]

“Housing affordability is more challenging for renters than existing homeowners. For Māori, [non-Pakeha and] Pacific peoples, the data indicates that they face even higher rates of unaffordable housing”[12] - The New Zealand Human Rights Commission

Policy proposal: A Ministry of Green Works that delivers on our key missions

To deliver the infrastructure that we need will be an enormous challenge. One that is beyond the scale and capacity of our existing private sector. We therefore propose the establishment of a Ministry of Green Works, based in part on the work of FIRST Union, Max Harris, and Jacqueline Paul.[13] It will be responsible for construction, urban design, architecture, and infrastructure planning, policy, and strategy.[14]

PULL Quote[15] – “A small government harms growth” – Prof. Stiglitz, Nobel Prize Economist

It will:

  • Act as an automatic stabiliser in the housing market by examining the number of houses that are in company pipelines and providing reliable levels of work for construction. In times of a construction deficit, it will build more units of housing to meet population needs.
  • Provide training and development for construction apprentices, recreating a flow of new skilled tradespeople.
  • Deliver new housing and retrofit existing housing to Healthy Homes standards. This will reduce costs to occupiers, lower carbon emissions, and save the health service money through reduced illness.
  • Target the development of new housing for Māori, in partnership with both iwi and Māori community housing providers.
  • Be a vehicle for central and local government to insource currently outsourced development activities.
  • Have the ability to make submissions to Cabinet documents in a comparable way to the Treasury. It will provide commentary (released under the OIA) on government proposals likely to affect deliveries of just transitions. It could also comment on the opportunity cost of not developing a proposal. This would include liability generated for future generations by not taking forward a proposal.
  • Be progressively responsible for the delivery of the Three Waters infrastructure. This would retain capacity within the public sector and ensure delivery is driven by need, not profit.


[1] Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission. (2021). Housing Inquiry First Report: Strengthening Accountability and Participation in the Housing System. *Housing_Inquiry_Strengthening_Accountability_and_Participation_FINAL-compressed.pdf (hrc.co.nz)

[2] Ibid

[3]  Article 25 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights

[1] Statistics New Zealand. (2019, June 26). Renting vs owning in NZ. https://www.stats.govt.nz/infographics/renting-vs-owning-in-nz

[2] From July 2021, all rental properties must meet healthy homes standards within 90 days of any new or renewed tenancies and from July 2024, all rentals must comply.

[3] Gill, S. (2022, June 30). Doctors said breathing issues 'likely due to mouldy rental' - but house still met healthy homes standards. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/129048306/doctors-said-breathing-issues-likely-due-to-mouldy-rental--but-house-still-met-healthy-homes-standards

[4] The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. (2020, February 20). New Zealand: housing crisis requires bold human rights response, says UN expert. https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2020/02/new-zealand-housing-crisis-requires-bold-human-rights-response-says-un.

[5]  Ministry of Social Development Housing Register

[6]  According to the Minister of Housing Dr. Megan Woods over 10,000 permanent state houses have been added since October 2017 when Labour was sworn into Government.

[7]   Russell, D and Renney, C. (2022). Monthly Economic Bulletin March 2022. New Zealand Council of Trade Unions. P. 3-5. https://union.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/NZCTU_Economic-Bulletin_28-March.pdf

[8] Lester, J (2022, August 28). The rise of New Zealand’s middle class millionaires. The Spinoff. https://thespinoff.co.nz/money/08-08-2022/the-rise-of-new-zealands-middle-class-millionaires

[9] New Zealand Treasury. (2022, March 21). He Puna Hao Pātiki: 2022 Investment Statement. https://www.treasury.govt.nz/publications/investment-statement/he-puna-hao-patiki-2022-investment-statement-html#section-8

[10]The analysis shows that without reform the cost per household could be between $1,900 and $9,000 per year over the next 30 years, depending on location. With reform, costs are projected to range between $800 and $1,640. This represents a much lower average cost per household. Source: www.dia.govt.nz

[11] The number of households given Priority A on MSDs social housing waiting list more than doubled between September 2015 and September 2017.

Johnson, A. Howden-Chapman, P. and Eaqub, S. (2018). A stocktake of New Zealand’s Housing - February 2018. Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.

[12] Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission. (2021). Housing Inquiry First Report: Strengthening Accountability and Participation in the Housing System.

[13] We are indebted to the work of Max Harris, Jacqueline Paul, and our colleagues at FIRST Union for their mahi on this in their report ‘A Ministry of Green Works for Aotearoa New Zealand: An Ambitious Approach to Housing, Infrastructure, and Climate Change’.

[14] Currently, no government department has the in-house expertise or capacity or mandate to implement our infrastructure needs. Currently, government policy, reforms and regulations are more often than not merely direction setting with the idea that the private sector will step in and construc . A Ministry of Green Works, would bring specialised, on-the-ground, expertise and capacity in-house to plan, construct and implement Aotearoa's infrastructure needs.

[15] Australia Institute Speech, 13th July 2022