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John MacDonald: Housing policies should address needs - not wants

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Wed, 22 May 2024, 12:31pm
Photo / NZ Herald
Photo / NZ Herald

John MacDonald: Housing policies should address needs - not wants

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Wed, 22 May 2024, 12:31pm

So, it looks like the Government is going to ditch the First Home Buyers Scheme which gives people up to $10,000 to help get them into their first home.  

All up, it costs the Government $60 million a year. It seems that money’s going to go into social housing instead. 

And it’s tick, tick, tick from me. That’s because, even though I think there is a place for government involvement in helping people get ahead in life, buying assets is not one of them. 

I was talking to someone who was saying that the First Home Buyers Scheme can be one of the only bits of government help some people get - over and above the usual public services. That would be aside from the pension, too, of course. 

And that’s government with a small g. This person wasn’t talking about the current government. They were about the government, in general. Or taxpayer support, to put it another way. 

But what I say to that is, just because you might never be on ACC, or you might never be on the unemployment benefit, or you might never need a sickness benefit, that doesn’t mean you're owed anything. 

And you’re certainly not owed anything to help you buy your first home. 

But, of course, there will be people who will be outraged that the scheme is going. Yes, they’ll be unhappy. And that’s because home ownership has come to be seen as something of a basic human right. When it’s not. 

Having a roof over your head is a basic human right. Owning that roof, isn’t. 

Interestingly, it was a National government in the 1950s which had the thinking that living in a state house should only be for people who needed it, and not for everyone. 

So, what it did is it set an income limit and told all the so-called middle-class people that they could forget about getting a state house and started championing home ownership, instead, saying that was what New Zealand aspired to. 

And so, it did a couple of things. It said to state house tenants that if they wanted to buy the house they were in, they could. And it increased the availability of what were known as state-advanced loans to help people get into their first homes. 

Which meant, within a very short time, 34% of all home loans were from the state. And, of course, what happened was demand outstripped supply and the real estate merry-go-’round got going. 

Over the years, it wasn't just National that fuelled this obsession with home ownership. The Labour government that came in after National in 1959 allowed low-income families to have their Family Benefit paid in advance, to help them get a deposit together for a house. 

Fast-forward to 1984, and things changed a bit under David Lange’s Labour government. It deregulated the banking sector which brought more competition into banking, stopped the scheme that allowed people to put their Family Benefit towards a deposit, and started introducing market rental rates for state houses.  

And, by that time, the horse had well-and-truly bolted and home ownership was the be-all and end-all for a lot of people. As it still is today. 

But even though we have a relatively long history of governments helping people out financially if they want to buy a home —to varying degrees, certainly— it’s not a reason to keep doing it. 

And the obsession with home ownership certainly isn’t a reason to keep giving taxpayer money to people to buy houses. 

And good on the Government —or National anyway— for being true to its word and, in relation to this anyway - being true to its word and basing its housing support on need. 

Because no one needs to buy a house. They might want to, but they don’t need to. 

Unlike someone on the bones of their backside and on the edge of society, who does actually have a need. They need a roof over their head. And, if the Government is sitting there trying to work out the best way to spend $60 million - then, as far as I’m concerned, that $60 million has to go towards addressing people’s needs. Not subsidising their wants. 

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