Housing affordability is a big concern for many voters this election. Many people worry about the young not being able to buy a house. Most political parties respond to that concern, offering policies aimed at making it easier to buy a home.* But the focus on home-ownership means that more urgent issues of housing affordability can be forgotten.
Helen, in the Auckland Mission’s “Speaking for ourselves” report, talks about housing affordability as it affects her:
“I have a rental property, it’s a two-bedroom unit located in Mangere… We have a size of six children plus myself and my wife, a total of eight persons in a two-bedroom unit in south Auckland…I get $360 for both of us. Of that $300 for the whole rent. The extra $60 that’s the money for the food, for the power, or the phone, for any other necessity of life. The $60 has to go there.”
Making homeownership easier won’t affect someone like Helen. For her, the $60 left over after paying rent has to go towards food and expenses for a family of eight – not towards saving to buy a house.
It can be argued that helping people to buy houses indirectly helps those that remain renting. In theory, people in overcrowded households could move in to the newly vacated rental homes, and an increase in supply will drive housing improvements. This argument doesn’t hold much sway with me: I’ve read similar arguments from politicians throughout New Zealand’s history (like in Bland 1942, Ferguson 1994). Government policies supported and subsidised homeownership, houses were built, and people move in to them. The people that couldn’t afford them remained in cold, damp, insecure private rental housing
As a result, I’m most interested in what politicians will do to make things better right now for the people who can’t afford to buy a house. These are the people in the City Mission’s report, who describe the difficulty of making rent, and how they crowd in together, accept substandard housing, or live far from work or public transport, because they can’t afford a better living situation. The people that talk about the difficulty finding a rental home, and the trauma of being displaced when their tenancy when their house is sold.
These are the people who want, in the words of the City Mission, “the same things all families want – a house that is dry, warm and secure.” How will parties deal with those issues?
On the warm and dry factor, it’s good to see that various parties have committed to a warrant of fitness for private rental housing, which would ensure housing is up to standard: in a question put to politicians on AskAway reveals, all parties but Act and National (National did not respond) committed to some form of WOF for private rental homes.
It’s important that costs of coming up to standard do not result in rent increases for people already struggling. For this reason it’s good to see that many parties are committed to subsidising insulation: party commitments are contained on Action Station’s healthy homes report card.
On housing insecurity, the Greens have proposed changing our tenancy law, for example, by providing for the right of lease renewal. Other parties haven’t made any announcements regarding secure occupancy. The Greens have also committed to funding tenant advocacy via the tenancy bond system, an important issue recently discussed on this blog.
Money is important to housing too. Issues of cost, conditions, instability and crowding aren’t just the result of tenancy law or the lack of standards. They’re also the result of people simply moving around looking for something they can afford, and the generosity for friends and whanau taking people in when they can’t afford their own rent. That’s why if you’re concerned about people like Helen, you should check out the parties’ policies on benefits and wages. Also check out UNICEF’s discussion on different approaches to dealing with child poverty.
Each party will deal with the issues facing renters differently. Your vote empowers their action.
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*see National, Labour, Greens, United Future, Maori, Mana, NZ First. In contrast, Act opposes homeownership subsidies; Conservatives and Internet Party do not have housing policies. A summary of the parties’ policies is on the Tick for Kids website.