(Bloomberg) -- The New Zealand government wants to allow foreigners to invest in build-to-rent homes to help stimulate housing supply, Finance Minister Nicola Willis said.

Work is underway on changes to the nation’s overseas investment criteria and it was “absolutely” a priority for it to happen this year, Willis said in an interview with Bloomberg News Friday in Sydney.

“We want a lot more housing built,” Willis said. “What we are looking at is an exemption in our overseas investment regime so that investors who are investing in built-to-rent housing can do so as long as they meet security concerns.”

Foreigners buying property has been a contentious issue in New Zealand, with wealthy people such as tech billionaire Peter Thiel, film director James Cameron and singer Shania Twain making headlines for big purchases in the country. 

In 2018, Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party introduced a ban on foreigners buying existing homes, saying overseas speculators had driven up house prices. Under the rules, non-resident foreigners are allowed to invest in new construction but must sell once the homes are built.

Willis’ National Party had pledged to partially remove the ban by allowing foreigners to buy properties worth more than NZ$2 million ($1.2 million), but the plan was scuppered by the nationalist New Zealand First Party in talks to form the coalition government. 

The libertarian ACT Party is also in the coalition and it favors allowing foreigners to build homes for rent.

“Our overseas investment regime has been quite restrictive and I think that there are options for improving that,” Willis said. “We’re still working through the detail of how that proposal will work, but we would expect to make an announcement soon.”

Australian and Singapore citizens are exempt from the current ban in order to comply with trade agreements.

Australia in December lowered foreign investment application fees for build-to-rent projects in a bid to improve housing supply and affordability.

--With assistance from Michael Heath.

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