Pre-Xmas housing policy rush

Thursday 21 December 2017

The government is rushing into its housing policy agenda at full throttle with several notable announcements coming in the week before Christmas.

By Miriam Bell

Government pledges to restructure the tax system mean that potential changes to the tax law surrounding property are of major interest to investors, with fears of a capital gains tax or land tax running high.

While the government has said there will be no major changes before the next election, they are moving quickly to get their Tax Working Group up and running.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson today announced the people who will make up the Tax Working Group, alongside chair Sir Michael Cullen.

The group of 11 range from tax experts to academics to private sector representatives to a union representative and a Maori community expert.

They include Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope, former IRD deputy commissioner Robin Oliver, former Bell Gully tax partner Joanne Hodge, Air NZ head of group taxation and insurance Michelle Redington and PwC’s financial advisory services leader Geof Nightingale.

Robertson says the wide range of expertise and experience among the membership means the Tax Working Group is well placed to consider changes to make the country's tax system fairer.

The Tax Working Group’s first meeting is scheduled for the end of January 2018 and its final recommendations to ministers are due by February 2019.

Another of the government’s key policies is upping government intervention in house building in a bid to address the major housing supply shortages in parts of New Zealand, particularly Auckland.

Its flagship programme in this area is Kiwibuild and Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford announced Wednesday that the implementation of that programme is now underway.

Twyford says it will take about a year to formally establish an urban development authority – which will be called the Housing Commission – so an interim KiwiBuild Unit has been established.

The Unit, which will sit within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment will enable building to get underway while the legislation to establish the Housing Commission is developed, he says.

The Unit’s responsibilities will include:

• Building KiwiBuild homes as part of redevelopment of state housing land, alongside new state and open market homes.
• Scaling up the building of KiwiBuild homes on underutilised Crown-owned land.
• Purchasing (or underwriting) new homes off the plans in private developments.
• Investigating major greenfield and urban regeneration projects, so that they can be progressed swiftly by the Housing Commission once established.
• Working with councils, iwi and private developers.
• Exploring innovative ways to address current constraints including alternative financing options and construction practices.

Once established, the Housing Commission will take over as the driver of the KiwiBuild programme.

Wednesday was a busy day for Twyford as he also announced the government has formally cancelled the sell-off of state houses to community housing providers.

This will put a stop to the planned transfer of up to 2,500 state houses in Christchurch and represents the end of large-scale state housing sell-offs.

But Twyford says Housing NZ will still be rejuvenating its stock by building and buying newer homes where they are most needed and selling houses that are no longer fit for purpose.

Earlier in the week, Twyford announced he was waiting for advice on changing the current guidelines, around meth testing and contamination.

He describes the existing guidelines as “pretty useless” and says millions of dollars have been wasted on meth testing while a moral panic has been created.

Meanwhile, the Bill which would ban foreign buyers from buying existing residential policies passed its first reading in Parliament this week.

These housing policy developments follow the passing into law of the Healthy Homes Bill, which will establish minimum standards for insulation, heating, ventilation, draught stopping, drainage and moisture in all rental properties, earlier this month.

Read more:

Cullen to lead Tax Working Group 

Fast track for foreign buyers ban 

Healthy Homes now law 

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