Noting the poor conditions in New Zealand’s rental sector, the New Zealand Herald columnist Deborah Hill Cone recently asked:
Why are renters not rising up? Why is there not a more vocal and activist tenants’ lobby group?
Actually, renters are rising up. There are tenants groups pushing for change. For example, Wellington Renters United have put out a guide to local body elections (vote now! 6 days to go) rating every Mayoral candidate on what they’ll do about rental quality and cost, homelessness, and renters’ rights. They have put forward renters’ views on the latest few bit of housing legislation, and are expanding their membership via door-knocking and music (check out yesterday’s Music 101 for coverage of their fundraising gig). In Auckland, the Student Housing Action Group has organised the ‘Rally Against Rent’ and other events to draw attention to issues facing renters. State tenant groups in Maraenui, Pomare and Glen Innes have been protesting state housing redevelopments and social housing reform for the past few years.
Perhaps the key word in Hill Cone’s question is “more”. Why aren’t renters more vocal, or more active? After all, renters make up a third of New Zealand’s households and half the population, but in the conversation about housing, they don’t get half the airtime. It’s one of the questions I looked at in my PhD thesis, and that I’ll be writing more on in the future. Some answers come from looking at New Zealand’s hundred-year history of renter activism. From there, we can learn about some of the key challenges to renter activism – as well as common methods and key achievements.
People may wish to come along to an upcoming seminar in Auckland, organised by the Fabians, which looks at some of these issues. I’ll be talking about the history of New Zealand renter activism, touching on some of the groups active today. Milo West, of Save Our Homes, will be presenting on her recent trip to the United States, where she met with a number of housing activist groups and learned about some of their achievements and challenges. We’ll discuss what renters in New Zealand today can learn from the past and from the American experience.