Renting securely for life is common in other parts of the world but is only starting to catch on in New Zealand. 

Build to rent: changing New Zealand's housing model


New Zealand’s obsession with real estate shows no signs of waning, but for many of us the Kiwi dream of home ownership (or even just having a warm, dry place to live) is rapidly disappearing.

Luckily former financial highflier Sam Stubbs is in our corner. Not only does he reckon “it doesn’t have to be that way,” but the company he helps run is on a mission to shake up the finance and housing sectors, with a goal of funding and building 25,000 new homes across Aotearoa in the next ten years.

A self-proclaimed ‘gamekeeper turned poacher,’ Sam and his equally passionate sidekicks Amanda Morrall, Andrew Lance and Amir Bashir founded Simplicity KiwiSaver seven-and-a-half years ago, a non-profit default KiwiSaver provider hellbent on creating a better world for all New Zealanders. Now boasting 150,000 members and managing $5.8 billion, the fund has rewarded investors well and also donated $7.3 million to charity, but according to Sam “this is just the beginning.”

Build to rent INP

Now Simplicity has set its sights on addressing the housing crisis, taking a three-pronged approach which includes offering 10,000 lower-cost first home mortgages, funding 5,000 community homes, and rolling out a build-to-rent scheme through Simplicity Living which aims to provide 10,000 quality properties for long-term renters – while also providing investors competitive returns.

Already Simplicity has invested more than $340 million in residential housing-aligned investments, with well over 1,500 rental homes completed, funded or in development through Simplicity Living and community housing providers, and almost 300 low cost first home mortgages.

Recently though, they’ve upped the ante with the launch of a new Homes and Income Investment Fund that aims to considerably boost Aotearoa’s housing supply.

“We want to move the needle on housing supply because right now it’s out of kilter,” Sam says. “The Simplicity Foundation gives away millions of dollars a year, but that’s funding ambulances at the bottom of the cliff – the fence at the top of the cliff is having warm dry houses.”

Sam believes the root cause of many of New Zealand’s problems is that we don’t have enough houses to accommodate people, and he’s making it his life’s work to help fix the issue.

“We’ve been working towards this for a few years but now we’re really thinking big,” he adds.

Why now? “I had a lightbulb moment – well, two actually. I met a Pasifika family who were renting and in nine years, they’d had to move eight times and their kids had moved schools five times. Then one day my daughter came home from her decile ten state school and told me that two of her teachers were living in garages. I thought ‘what’s going on here, this is not the New Zealand we want’.”

The Homes and Income Investment Fund will certainly help dial up Simplicity’s ability to “make money and do good,” and the more Kiwis that get behind it the faster they will reach their target.

Build to rent inp

“We already have hundreds of millions invested in housing, but we want it to be billions. If Kiwis invested 5% of their savings with us, we could increase New Zealand’s housing stock by 25,000 homes. We can’t solve this problem overnight or by ourselves, and it will take decades to fix the problem, but our aim is to make a significant difference to housing in New Zealand.”

The Simplicity Living build-to-rent scheme is already gaining great traction with three developments (two in Auckland’s Point England and another in Onehunga) now completed and fully leased, and a development in Mount Albert due for completion in 12 months’ time. Another three larger developments are in the pipeline – 297 homes Mount Wellington, 320 homes on the Ellerslie Racecourse, and a recently-announced development in Morningside providing a further 230 homes.

Warm, dry and “built to last for 100+ years” – over twice the lifespan promised under our current Building Code ­– the new apartments are all being built to Homestar 7 standards, are located next to major transport and amenity hubs, are at attractive rents, and offer long-term security for renters.

“We want to become one of the biggest suppliers of long-term accommodation in New Zealand. And because all our developments are very similar in design and build, we have huge economies of scale with building costs typically 35% below market. These savings can then be passed on both to our tenants and our investors. In our current developments, apartments are on average 2.2 bedrooms, 15% larger than typical apartments, and we build them for about $550,000 turnkey. Moving forward we’re looking to build them 8% bigger again. Why? Because we want to build homes people want to live in, homes that if they choose to, they can rent for the rest of their lives.”

Greenspace is a top priority, occupying a third of each development (“we typically plant 60 plants per apartment”) and construction is offset through native tree planting. For every apartment rented, Simplicity Living funds the planting of a tree every week via the charity Trees That Count.

The long-term security Simplicity Living offers tenants is a relatively new concept here in New Zealand, but as Sam points out, lifelong tenancies are the norm in many other countries.

“We don’t like investing too much in new ideas – we like investing in ideas that have worked overseas. Around 42% of people in the OECD live in apartments and the majority of those are renting. In New Zealand it’s more like 4%, so we have a long way to go, but if people can reliably rent long-term, many might well choose that.”

Through Simplicity, Sam Stubbs is offering a win-win – both for Kiwis needing homes and for those keen to build their wealth while creating a better New Zealand.

“We buy the land, develop the properties, rent them and manage them ourselves which not only cuts out a filo pastry of fees, but also means we’re heavily invested in our tenants and the community experience. We can give solo parents security that their kids can stay at the same school, and elderly peace of mind that they’ve got somewhere to live for life. The impact reliable housing has on people’s lives and mental health is dramatic, and being able to say the magic words ‘you’re safe’ to someone is incredibly powerful.”

As far as Sam is concerned, having a warm dry home that you can call your own – whether you own it or not – is the ultimate fence at the top of the cliff, and he couldn’t be prouder to be a driving force behind reshaping New Zealand’s housing landscape.

“This has ended up being much more of an emotional journey than I expected. I feel very lucky – I have the best job in the world.”


Story by Vanessa Trethewey for the Autumn 2024 issue of AA Directions Magazine. Vanessa is an Auckland-based freelance writer who regularly contributes to AA Directions. 

Explore more from AA Directions magazine:

More from AA Directions

Find out more

Home profile: a former fish factory in Wellington

We visit a former Wellington fish factory that has been converted into a stylish home. Read the story . . . 

Find out more

Interview: Simeon Brown, Minister of Transport

We talk to Simeon Brown, the new Minister of Transport about the importance of sorting out New Zealand's transport system Read the story . . . 

Find out more

Money Matters: Emma Poole, Young Farmer of the Year

2023 Young Farmer of the Year Emma Poole shares advice on rural finances and money matters. Read the story . . .