Smith: I can tackle Auckland's housing shortage by 2017

Lots of new houses are being consented in Auckland, but supply is still not keeping up with demand. So why is National so keen to talk about supply?

It's a moment to tuck away for the 2017 election campaign.

If there's one thing you can bet the house on, it's that housing will be a major issue again at the next election. Even the Housing Minister says the Auckland property market it "over-heated".

How could he say otherwise when for the past year, house prices in our biggest city have been going up by almost $3000 a week? That means a median Auckland house is earning $150,000 a year, more than the vast majority of home-owners get from their day jobs.

National likes to say the problem is "supply". They say it a lot. And it's true, as far as it goes. What they won't accept is that demand has anything to do with it. They determinedly look at just one side of the coin.

None talk about supply more stubbornly that Housing Minister Nick Smith. Our problem is just that we don't have enough houses in Auckland and more need to be built.

Which is true. Smith also likes to point out that he's created a bunch of special housing areas to speed up construction and the number of consents is on the rise again, after some low years.

Which is also true.

But of course supply is only a problem if demand is strong. Which is why foreign buyers and immigration are vital issues in this debate, whether we're comfortable with that or not. But Smith doesn't like to talk about that.

Supply, as one colleague has said to me, "is his safe place". The problem is, he has no right for it to be. Because the indisputable fact is that even with National's efforts to increase the number of houses being built in Auckland, supply in the city is going backwards. You can only build so many houses so quickly... unless you want to intervene more directly in the market as Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens do and start a government building programme. 

You can put it any way you like: Supply is not keeping up with demand. The Auckland housing shortage is growing. Not enough houses are being built. It's all true.

Smith has spent years justifying his argument that it's "all about supply" by quoting the Productivity Commission report that first made that case. But recently that same Commission delivered another report that's equally clear about his supply failure. The Commissions Murray Sherwin says:

"Auckland has a current shortage of 32,000 dwellings, and that number is going to keep growing".

The Commission predicts it will hit 60,000 by 2020. 

So for all of National's talk about increasing supply, they're not increasing it fast enough. The housing shortage is growing. Which means the house prices will keep growing too, especially as interest rates are cut, foreign buyers face no restrictions and immigration rates stay high.

Those are issues National has painted itself into a corner over, however. It won't touch immigration or foreign bans, and any change would be a humiliating u-turn. So it keeps talking about supply, pointing out that it's growing, but hoping no-one will notice it's not growing enough.

John Armstrong summed it up nicely today in the Herald, writing:

National knows it can never build enough houses this side of the next election to claim credit for tackling the supply problem. The work of the Productivity Commission has said as much. The best that National can hope to do is to provide enough supply of new housing stock to take the steam out of an overheated market without cooling it too much.

But Nick Smith cannot bring himself to admit that. More, he is now on record claiming the opposite. Check out this telling exchange on The Nation this weekend.

Smith says that "absolutely", he can get down Auckland's housing shortage before the election. I suspect that's a commitment that will haunt him; come 2017 opposition parties will be quick to remind him of this moment.