Opinion: Government's handling of housing crisis lurches from chaotic to shambolic

National's persistent and longstanding refusal to acknowledge that the Auckland housing crisis is a crisis has been a textbook example of the kind of self-inflicted muddles that bedevil long-running governments and which ultimately destroy them.

The scheme, announced today, will cost $2.2 billion. Source: 1 NEWS

As long as they can pretend a problem is not a problem, Cabinet ministers can delude themselves into thinking they do not have to do anything about it.

By this stage of a government's life-cycle, long-serving ministers start believing in their own omnipotence regardless of the cold, hard fact that in National's case an election is just around the corner.

Ministers are always right. Everyone else is wrong.

Source: 1 NEWS

As the crisis worsens, ministers subscribe to short-term fixes and patch-work solutions in the hope those measures will do the trick.

They rarely do so. And never when the problem is as deep-seated, complex and intractable as the Auckland housing shortage.

To admit there is a crisis is to admit to failure. To refuse to admit there is a crisis is to leave yourself open to ridicule.

The upshot is that National's handling of the shortage of affordable new homes in Auckland has run the whole gamut between the merely chaotic to the utterly shambolic.

The stumbling and bumbling has put National very much on the back foot on the no.1 issue in a metropolis where elections are won and lost.

It is also the one area of policy where Labour has come up with a clear and coherent package of interlocking policies, the intent of which are difficult to criticise.

That was underlined by Andrew Little's use of the platform of his party's election-year congress last weekend to add further bite to his party's game-plan for tackling the housing shortage by promising to abolish tax breaks for those who own rental housing.

Labour's leader won deserved plaudits for flagging the removal of what amounts to a subsidy which not only fills the pockets of those in least need of receiving it, but which has also seen billions of dollars shunted into the property market at the huge expense of productive investment.

Such tax write-offs are indefensible regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum.

To attack Labour's decision to axe them meant siding with property speculators. That was hardly an attractive proposition for National.

Labour used its election year conference to unveil some more housing policy. Source: 1 NEWS

Finance Minister Steven Joyce correspondingly restricted his criticism of Little's promise to arguing that the elimination of tax breaks would be counter-productive because it would inevitably reduce the size of the country's rental stock, thereby exacerbating Auckland 's accomodation shortage and hiking rents to boot.

That was supposition on Joyce's part. There is no evidence this will be the case.

Rather than slagging Labour, Joyce and the Prime Minister have a more urgent priority - digging themselves out of a very big hole.

This week's announcement of National's intention to embark on what will initially be a state-funded house construction programme across Auckland on a scale not seen since the 1950s is a clear sign that the party is no longer in crisis-denial mode.

Tuesday's unveiling of the Crown Building Project which has a target of adding 34,000 new houses to Auckland's housing stock over the next 10 years marks a quantum shift in how National intends tackling the shortfall in new homes.

Labour first promulgated its KiwiBuild scheme back in 2012. Its objective is the construction of 100,000 affordable houses nationwide over ten years for first-home buyers.

At the time, National almost drowned in the sound of its own scoffing at Labour's plan.

Five years on, National is now copying it. And shamelessly so.

Labour is already accusing National of fiddling with the figures, saying the 34,000 target includes houses which have already been built.

That will not worry National. It knows voters find arguments over the accuracy of figures tedious and switch off.

National's target will not gazump Labour's intention to build 50,000 of its 100,000 homes in Auckland. But it will go a long way towards neutralising it.

Bill English says property speculators have largely been dealt with and houses are being built as fast as is possible. Source: Breakfast

National will not lose any sleep either from its effective acknowledgment that the state will always have a major role in housing New Zealanders and that the private sector cannot do it on its own.

The urgent need to build more social housing to accommodate the poor also raises questions about Bill English's mad-scientist experiment in creating a free market for state housing.

The programme had the unstated intention of running down Housing New Zealand. If anything, the apparent boost to social housing cited in the Crown Building Project would seem to give the state housing agency an enhanced role.

If you are looking for ideological consistency from National four months out from a general election, however, you can forget it.