Today, New Zealand’s newest MP, Green Marama Davidson, gave her maiden speech in Parliament. It’s a remarkable speech in many ways, but this is a blog about housing, so I wanted to draw attention to the bit where she talks about the search for a rental home prior to and after becoming an MP (MPs based outside Wellington, like Davidson, are entitled to an allowance to rent a home in the capital to stay in while Parliament is sitting):
At the beginning of this year my family were priced out of our rental property and so we sought another, cheaper house in Auckland to rent. I looked at 30-something houses and applied for 20-something of them. For some properties there were more than 30 other applicants. I did not get called back for any of them and I started to feel every bit of whatever it was that meant that we were not preferred renters…
Fast forward nine months – I’m now an MP looking for accommodation in Wellington and the reception I’ve had couldn’t be more different. I’ve gone from being at the back of the house-hunting line to being right at the front.
You know what? You shouldn’t have to become an MP to get a house to live in…
I recognise that even then, when I was searching for a home in Auckland, compared with others I was dripping with privilege. I know that for too many, the search for a home is far more desperate… In my community, people are living in homes so filled with mould that it’s making kids sick.
Davidson has long spoken out about housing injustice in New Zealand. She has written of the memory of “our whanau…getting evicted for not paying the rent”, of her rent in a “modest Manurewa home” taking up 65% of her income, and of a relative telling her that “every night I choose between starving the kids and freezing them”.
We don’t know why Davidson, her partner, and their six children didn’t get calls back for the houses they looked at.
But we do know that Māori are 13 times more likely than Pākeha to report experiencing discrimination when buying or renting housing. We know that 67.4% of landlords say they prefer not to rent to large families. And we know from the high proportion of income that many people pay on rent that the range of homes that people can consider when they have to move is limited by cost.
This year, Davidson has experienced both the difficulty of finding an affordable home for a large family to rent in Auckland, and the ease of finding a rental home as a single person on an MP’s housing allowance in Wellington. Her story shows the diversity of possible experiences in the private rental sector and the difference that income and context makes.
It is important that we have a private rental sector that works for everyone. As Davidson says, “You shouldn’t have to become an MP to get a house to live in”.
 Harris, R., Tobias, M., Jeffreys, M., Waldegrave, K., Karlsen, S., & Nazroo, J. (2006). Effects of self-reported racial discrimination and deprivation on Māori health and inequalities in New Zealand: Cross-sectional study. The Lancet, 367, 2005–2009.
 Saville-Smith, K., & Fraser, R. (2004). National landlords survey: Preliminary analysis of the data. Wellington: Centre for Research, Evaluation and Social Assessment. Retrieved from http://www.cresa.co.nz/projects-and-publications/
 Perry, B. (2015). Household incomes in New Zealand: Trends in indicators of inequality and hardship 1982 to 2014. Wellington: Ministry of Social Development. Retrieved from http://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/monitoring/index.html