What Housing Shortage?

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'They allowed the perfect storm': UN expert damns New Zealand's housing crisis

a close up of Leilani Farha: Photograph: Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images

When Leilani Farha touches down in a new city, the first thing the UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing does is look up.

In Melbourne, Toronto, London and Dublin, the skies above are filled with cranes, Farhi says, soaring across the skylineto construct new homes for their booming populations.

Last week Farha arrived in Wellington on a fact-finding mission, lured by the headlines of a housing crisis, chronic homelessness, and motels bulging with desperate families for months at a time – all occurring with a new progressive government at the helm.

“I didn’t see cranes in the sky, which is suggestive of not a lot of development – that struck me right away,” says Farha, a plain-talking Canadian. “They allowed the perfect storm, and that’s successive governments. It’s really a bit tragic. It’s a human rights crisis.”

As special rapporteur since 2014, Farha’s missions have included fact-finding trips to India, Portugal and Chile, but as her last mission, New Zealand piqued her interest for its large Indigenous population (16% Māori), progressive left-leaning government led by Jacinda Ardern, and entrenched issues with homelessness, affordable housing, rampant property speculation and poor-quality homes.

According to the recent Demographia International survey, New Zealand has one of the most unaffordable housing markets in the world, and over the past decade homelessness has increased to more than 40,000, or 1 in 100 Kiwis – with working families also now feeling the bite, with some forced to sleep in cars, tents and shipping containers – despite being in full-time employment.


It requires an urgent response, and that’s what I am not sure I’ve seen

Leilani Farha, UN special rapporteur

Recently the waiting list for state housing hit a record high, and the government scaled back its flagship KiwiBuild programme, which had aimed to build 100,000 affordable home in 10 years – but managed to build only 47 in six months.

“The bottom line is sadly we don’t have any strategic housing plan as a country, there’s no strategic plan in terms of making a difference,” said Bernie Smith, the chief executive officer of Monte Cecilia Housing Trust, which houses homeless families in south Auckland. “There’s a hell of a lot of money going into motels and transitional housing, but very little going into building homes.”

On the 10-day mission, Farha visited an Auckland marae that has housed homeless families over the winter, cramped motels in the Hutt valley that are being used as emergency housing, and boarding houses she describes as “deplorable”. On her hotel doorstep, too, there were people sleeping rough.

“If people in New Zealand continue to call it a housing crisis it obfuscates what is going on here … the conditions are really stark,” Farha says, citing damp, mouldy homes that cause chronic illnesses of poverty, and rampant housing discrimination against Māori, Pasifika and those with disabilities.

“It’s in sizeable proportions, and it requires an urgent response, and that’s what I am not sure I’ve seen.”

a view of a city: Leilani Farha says New Zealand’s problem is more a human rights crisis than a housing crisis. Photograph: David Wall/Alamy Stock Photo© Provided by The Guardian Leilani Farha says New Zealand’s problem is more a human rights crisis than a housing crisis. Photograph: David Wall/Alamy Stock Photo

Though there were some positive points (the government’s housing-first approach to tackling homelessness was applauded), Farha says the scale of the problem in New Zealand has gone far beyond a housing crisis – it’s a human rights crisis, and the Ardern government appear somewhat in denial, though Farha stresses they are “trying”.

Among other recommendations, Farha is hopeful the government will immediately appoint a commissioner or watchdog to oversee housing issues, introduce an overarching framework for all housing policy based on human-rights principles, and legislate to make housing a human right for all.

The failure to implement a capital gains tax has drawn Farha’s scorn, as has the three-year electoral cycle, which she observes keeps governments in campaign mode, and makes them too timid to enact sweeping, “courageous” changes needed to tackle the “urgent, entrenched” problems which have bedded in since before the global financial crisis under successive governments.

Māori have been homeless since the 1860s

Leilani Farha

“I’ve seen and heard a lot of interesting and thoughtful policies, but I think what remains to be seen here is courageous acts, creative measures, and structural change,” says Farha. “In terms of innovation, I just didn’t get a feeling that really creative ideas were being explored. It’s a little bit same-old, same-old.”

During the trip, Farha spent a good deal of time talking to Māori people, who are disproportionately affected by the housing crisis, as are Pasifika peoples and those with disabilities.

Farha says for Māori the housing crisis goes much deeper than a home with four walls, and their self-determination must be written into all future rights-based housing policies.

“It became so clear to me and was beautifully articulated for me that Māori have been homeless since the 1860s,” says Farha.

“It was profound to be in the company of people who were searching for so much more than four walls and a roof. And the only way they’ll reach where they want to get is a complete reorientation of relationship with government.”

The housing crisis in New Zealand can be “hidden”, Farha says, as the streets of the country have an overall feeling of well-being. On her visit, Farha was frequently overcome with a feeling of “outrage” at the conditions New Zealanders were living in – and a secondary sense of outrage, at the lack of urgency surrounding the emergency, which put lives at risk.

”I think New Zealand let things go and it is really unfortunate.” she says. “But I did have a sense of outrage … this is urgent.”

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Busting the Housing Crisis Myth


Xavier Theodore Reginald Ordinary


Ashley Church explains why it is a myth that there is a housing crisis:

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past few years you’ve heard about the shortage of housing in New Zealand.

There are variations of the view but the most popular version claims that we’ve been building fewer homes than we actually need, for decades, and that we now have a shortage of around 100,000 dwellings. This view was almost universally accepted for a long time and while there’s some debate over where the claim originally came from – we know that it first gained widespread acceptance in 2012 when Labour made it the central plank of their KiwiBuild policy to build 100,000 homes over ten years.

Over the next few years the claim gathered momentum and was also adopted up by the National Government which came up with its own initiatives to address the problem. Meanwhile housing commentators, myself included, berated the Government for not moving fast enough and called for even more action to address the huge housing shortage.

There was only one problem: the claim that we had a shortage of homes was never true.

Hang on a minute, we’ve been told by media and politicians that this is a crisis. Surely they didn’t lie to us all?

But here’s the thing: if anybody had actually bothered to check the most simple indicators of housing numbers, back when the claim was gaining traction, they would have seen the whole thing for the nonsense that it was. It could have been nipped it in the bud early on. Instead, we blindly accepted the mantra, and it wasn’t until people like Gareth Kiernan from Infometrics and I started re-examining the numbers that it become obvious that the housing shortage claim was just a house of cards.

Here’s why: there are two very simple and widely available indicators which tell us whether we’re building enough homes to keep up with demand.

The first is population data and the population count, and the second is a census measure which tells us the average number of people occupying a Kiwi home at any given time. The population data is updated constantly, but the household occupancy figure is only available from Census data, which is usually taken once every five years.

So why are these numbers so important? Firstly, because they’re unquestionably accurate, and secondly, because dividing one by the other tells us how many houses we have at any particular point in time.

Let me demonstrate.

We know that, in 1986, the population of the country was 3.24 million. And we know from the census, that year, that, on average, there were 3.29 people per dwellin, or household, in New Zealand. So by simply dividing the population figure by the average household figure, we know that there were almost 985,000 occupied houses in New Zealand in that year.

But if we fast forward to 2013 we find that the population had increased to 4.45 million and that the average household occupancy number had actually dropped to 2.87 people per household. This means that the number of occupied dwellings had grown to 1,550,000, an increase of 565,000 dwellings over 26 years (or an average of 21,000 new dwellings being built per year).

Why does this matter? Because the household occupancy number could only have dropped if we had built more homes than we needed. If it had stayed at 3.29 we would only have needed 1,352.000 homes by 2013. So we built almost 200,000 more homes, over that 26 year period, than we needed to just stand still.

Think about what this means, because it’s important.

Yes, very important. We’ve been lied to, and the figures prove this.

Not only do we not have a housing shortage, but also the market has actually been supplying more homes than we’ve needed for almost 33 years!

But wait. Don’t we also know that we have high levels of homelessness and that the numbers of people on the Social Housing Register – those wanting to rent a home from the State – have dramatically increased?

Yes, to both. But these things are symptomatic of socio-economic issues, not a shortage of housing. For example, people register for social housing not because there are no homes to rent, but because they can’t afford market rate rents. The same is true of the homeless. The factors which drive this public issue are more complex and also relate to mental health and addiction issues. The point is that neither have anything to do with an actual shortage of housing.


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Real Estate agents are people who sell a house/property and then immediately try and get you to sell it - its called turnaround.     When too many people say no they bleat to their association because they not getting the commissions they usually enjoy and their association then tells the government "we have a crisis".    The pollies don't really understand but they go along with the hype and lo and behold someone like Twyford pronouces doom and gloom.     I got a section, 4 walls and a roof so no crisis here thank you. 

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