Private housing during the 1940-60s

Government financing rules meant that most private housing in the 1940s and 1950s was modest and closely and resembled state housing.


During the early 1940s, construction of private housing was slow, falling below the numbers needed to address the housing shortfall. Restrictions on the availability of materials as a result of general shortages and government-imposed finance restrictions (see influences on house design) continued until the mid-1950s.

The government, through the State Advances Corporation (SAC), established in 1936, kept a tight control on home ownership and design by setting strict guidelines on lending criteria, both for borrowers, and the type of housing for which it would provide finance.

The emphasis was for small, low-cost houses that typically followed the principle of the state house design, in that they should be three-bedroom family homes (a bedroom for parents, one for boys and one for girls). SAC even sold house plans based on state housing designs – for anyone applying for SAC housing finance, building according to a state house plan ensured approval of the loan.

Following Labour’s defeat in 1949, the National government took a different approach to addressing the housing shortage, and instead of continuing the state building project, encouraged private home ownership. The SAC continued to provide low-cost finance for new home construction, particularly where house plans adhered to the state house design. Legislation was also introduced that allowed state house tenants to buy their houses.

For any type of design or construction outside the government’s criteria, finance was effectively unavailable, so the bulk of the private housing built during the 1940s and 1950s differed very little from the state house in appearance.

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The 1960s saw 262,000 houses built. In the early 1960s, houses continued to resemble those of the 1950s in terms of external appearance, roof pitch, and window shape and size.

Brick and tile houses that had minimal or no visible timber were built in large numbers with Government support from the late 1950s and into the early 1960s. According to Peter Shaw in New Zealand Architecture – From Polynesian beginnings to 1990, at that time it was extremely difficult to get finance from the SAC for anything other than a standard, conventionally planned brick-and-tile house.

But there were a number of exceptions, particularly with architecturally designed houses. As the decade progressed eaves tended to become wider than in earlier houses, and there was some more variation in plan shapes. Windows got slowly bigger and a family space was often included in the plan.

The late 1960s saw a change in house style, with the publication of a number of plan books, such as New Zealand Home Builder by Leighton Carrad, that illustrated new styles, materials and layout that continued through the 1970s.

Over time, architect-designed styles had an increasing influence on the design and appearance of mass housing. By the late 1960s, timber once again achieved popularity in domestic construction – the desire for brick-and-tile construction had passed.

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Changing materials

Increasingly, there was experimentation with new materials such as exotic timbers. Widespread planting of pinus radiata and Douglas fir during the 1920–1930s meant that the trees were maturing by the 1950s and able to provide a new source of timber. Manufactured timber-based products and plastics also provided alternative, low cost building materials.

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Construction companies

The later 1950s also saw the emergence of construction companies such as the Neil group, Beazley Homes, Dempsey Morton, Keith Hay Homes and others that were able to utilise economies of scale to produce large volumes of low-cost housing.

This occurred at the same time as the arrival of building societies. These were organisations that provided loans for new housing, offering an alternative source of borrowing to that of the SAC with its strict lending criteria, and enabling homeowners far greater flexibility in design.