Housing pressure eases say bank economists

A year ago the Herald reported on the  meth-testing industry and questioned the criteria used to pull houses apart to ‘make them safe’ to live in.

We shone a light on an industry that has cost home owners lots of money, lots of stress, and in some cases led to much-needed State homes being taken off the list of available property. You can read Greg Fleming’s report here.

Fact is, you are just as likely to come into contact with meth contamination on banknotes as you are on the walls of a home.
There was no real surprise when a report from the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor Peter Gluckman found that New Zealand had made a “leap in logic” in setting standards to clean houses where meth had  been smoked.

Will the government compensate the owners of homes that were deemed to be contaminated?  I doubt it. It’s a shame that homes  were  deemed uninhabitable due to a hint of meth, but damp  homes that really do pose health issues  are given  the all-clear.

NZ Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell says: “The message that testing is only warranted in very few cases needs to reach every kiwi homeowner, landlord, tenant and social housing provider. When this report sinks in, we can expect to see demand for testing to drop right away.

“For the industry that remains, accreditation of testers is such an obvious way to ensure reliable and accurate test results. When you take this together with a reset of the levels, we should see the panic around methamphetamine exposure die down.

“This has caused unnecessary distress to tens of thousands of tenants in public and private housing, and led to a scandalous waste of money. We never understood why the previous government allowed this situation to get so out of hand.”

Bell says that as well as evicting tenants, the Tenancy Tribunal awarded costs against some very vulnerable people for ‘contaminating’ their rental home. With the basis of ‘contamination’ now being shown to be bogus, this calls into question the validity of the Tribunal findings. The Drug Foundation is calling for financial relief for tenants unfairly penalized by an eviction or remedial costs.

Tenants who were kicked out of their homes because there was a hint of meth in the home should be compensated, says The Christchurch Progressive Network.

A spokesperson for the organization says that in a week when the government has announced hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate farmers over the Mycoplasma bovis debacle, Housing Minister Phil Twyford is refusing to compensate state house tenants.

“It’s a double standard. As well as being tossed out on the street, we now know that many of these hundreds of state tenants got rid of clothes, mattresses and bedding etc because, based on advice from the government, they thought their possessions were a danger to themselves and their children.”

Heat coming off housing market

The number of people moving to settle in New Zealand is slowing, although the number of arrivals is still at historical highs.

The net inflow of 67,000 people in the year to April was the lowest it’s been in two years, and the economists at Westpac expect that net migration will continue to slow as many of those who arrived in recent years on temporary visas get ready to leave.

Westpac says the heat is coming off the housing market, but that may be a reflection of fewer people arriving and more people leaving the country.

“After a brief resurgence, house prices have started to fall again in Auckland and Christchurch, and the pace of increase has slowed sharply in Wellington,” say the bank’s economists.

“With a range of significant government policy changes targeting the housing market being introduced (such as the extension of the ‘bright line’ test for taxing capital gains which came into effect at the end of March), we expect house prices will lose further ground over the remainder of this year.”

The construction sector is also taking a breather, says Westpac in its weekly report, with activity set to rise only gradually despite strong demand.

“After large increases in recent years, the sector is encountering some strong headwinds, including rising costs and shortages of skilled labour. That means the KiwiBuild program will be one more buyer in an already constrained market. Even allowing for an increase in the size of the labour force over the coming years and a shift to smaller, higher density homes, the building sector is going to be wrestling with constrained capacity for some time yet.

“This means that, even if KiwiBuild related construction does pick up (and we have our doubts), this would likely result in private sector construction being crowded out.”

The bank expects KiwiBuild will help to offset some of the financial headwinds in the construction sector over the next few years (as banks become increasingly cautious on lending). And longer term, KiwiBuild related efforts to increase construction sector capacity could also increase building activity.

Nevertheless, says the bank’s economists, it will be a slow grind higher, and more gradual than even the Treasury’s forecasts assume.

Bottom line; pressure for housing is cooling slightly, there’s a huge underlying demand still to be met, the banks are being cautious, so it’s down to Government to close the gaps in any way it can. Time is not on its side.

Free on Monday

Free with the NZ Herald on Monday is our quarterly Property Report. In another packed edition we feature the price trends of homes in more than 400 suburbs across the North Island — find out how much your home is worth.

Special features include a report on why we pay so much for building materials in New Zealand — are we being ripped off?

We also explore why some landlords have such a bad name among tenants and how some firms offering discounts for insulating your home are  rorting the system when it comes to government subsidies — leaving home-owners no better off.

Reporter Diana Clement joins me to talk about her report on the cost of building materials.