Opinion

I took a break from media and worked for the Ministry of Housing - here's what I learned

For a while, I took a break from the media and worked for the Ministry of Housing.

I know, right? Me, in a Ministry...

You won’t be surprised to hear that I wasn’t a particularly brilliant public servant. I was always a bit exasperated. Always a bit frustrated. Nothing ever happened at pace, there were always so many rules, and there are lots of titles, tiers, and protocols in the ministry.

Those rules and restrictions are in place for a very good reason. You’re dealing with taxpayer money, so you are always advancing cautiously with a great deal of care and oversight. But I always felt like I was in shackles and, if I’m honest, I was probably a bit lippy to be working in government.

If someone asked me to do something and it didn't make sense or there was a better way, I would tend to say that. It took me a while to realise that, in the bureaucracy of Wellington, the correct course of action is to actually do the thing that doesn’t make sense. And be done with it.

I was a slow learner. I’m pretty sure Wellington breathed a sigh of relief when I left town.

However, there’s always an upside to every situation. You’ve always got to look for the light, and when I look back now on my time in the ministry, I realise just how valuable that time was. I worked on the KiwiBuild programme; the government’s flagship policy when it came to power in 2017. What a ride that was. 

I’ll tell you about it at some point, however, that role gave me such insight into the inner workings of government, property development, construction, and the building sector. It was through that lens that I viewed the announcement yesterday that the government will spend $1.4 billion on infrastructure in Auckland to enable more housing.

It’s Brown Fields so there is existing housing. It will be bulldozed, and more state housing, affordable homes and private sale properties will be developed. And that has been enabled because the government’s stepped in to fund the infrastructure for it. 

In my time in the ministry, the infrastructure issue often tipped up housing developments. 

Council wouldn’t approve developments because it didn’t have the money to fund the infrastructure. And it thought government or the property developers should pay for it, all the sewage, water, and drainage infrastructure, but developers would then lose their margin, so the development never happened. 

It was a failure of local and central government to find a solution. 

And so, when I saw the Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and the Housing Minister Megan Woods stand alongside each other at the announcement yesterday, and reveal that the government’s funding would allow for the construction of 16,000 homes, and facilitate another 11,000 new builds on private land adjacent to this development, I thought "Great, that's progress".

In terms of the actual developments, this is where successive governments have done really well. When it comes to large scale developments, they do a good job. 

Large scale urban development or regeneration like think Hobsonville or Porirua at the moment. Think of Wigram, where Ngāi Tahu stepped in to buy the aerodrome site and that’s a fabulous, master-planned community.

So this is a good story. The government is enabling more large scale development and everyone's got their head around, the government will fund the infrastructure. 

It's good news. It's progress. And so, on a Friday morning, an accolade for the government. Credit where it's due. Nice work.