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Kerre Woodham: Could long term rentals help solve our housing crisis?

Publish Date
Mon, 20 May 2024, 1:42pm
(Photo / Getty)
(Photo / Getty)

Kerre Woodham: Could long term rentals help solve our housing crisis?

Publish Date
Mon, 20 May 2024, 1:42pm

A new paper from the OECD has shown New Zealand has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the developed world, with more than two percent of New Zealanders recorded as being homeless. And that's the highest population percentage recorded of any country in the developed block being measured.  

Although New Zealand's broad definition of homelessness kind of snookered us, and helped us gain another unwanted top spot, our figures include refugees and asylum seekers looking for temporary accommodation, as well as victims of domestic violence. It also included children and people living in uninhabitable housing. Housing that's not up to scratch. And most of the other countries do not include these groups.  

But we know the problem of homelessness is bad. It was an election issue under John Key’s National government - part of what got them bundled out. And then it got much, much worse under Labour. In September of 2023, Labour had spent $1.4 billion paying for people to live in motels. They also spend longer in emergency housing. They're now spending half the year there, up from 3 and a half weeks in December of 2017. People are staying in emergency housing longer. The government is spending more - and for what?  

There is no resolution. Certainly, when questioned, Megan Woods points to Labour's record of delivering on public houses. 13,000 houses in the last two terms. Kind of gets overshadowed by Kiwibuild, but they were delivering on public houses. Some of them had been planned for, consented and started under National, but none the nonetheless 13,000 houses in the last two terms, which is unfortunately, just the tip of the iceberg. As well as thousands of families living in motels 480 apparently live in cars, the social housing wait list has quadrupled to more than 24,000 families, and rents are up phenomenally, so it doesn't look like we're going to get out of the bottom of the class and anywhere near the top anytime soon.  

What is the answer? Because we know that the social issues that go hand in hand with being homeless are expensive. They're grievous for the children who are living in these transitional houses. A State House was one of the foundations of the welfare state. You know everybody’s whose grandparents had a picture of Michael Joseph Savage on the wall, understood the importance of a State House. It was a place to anchor yourself, a place to be, a place where families could grow up. A place where you could have a veggie garden because there were backyard lots. Those days are gone. The old state houses are being torn down and replaced with 7, 8,9, 10 apartment buildings.  

So, when we talk about people on low incomes being able to have their own veggie patches, I think those days are pretty much over. Nonetheless a warm, dry, safe house - even if it's a two-bedroom apartment - is a hell of a lot better than living out of a car or living in emergency hotels. So: more of them, and quickly.  

But a lot of the who people are homeless have a lot more going on than lack of a roof over their head. And that was something that was recognised by Auckland City Mission when they built their homes for people in the middle of Auckland City. They've got addiction specialists on site, they've got budgeters, they've got people who can help with much more than homelessness.  

So simply just throwing up more houses and saying there you go, off you go, probably isn't going to fix the the issues surrounding homelessness long term. We do not want to go back to the patriarchal ‘government knows best’ kind of approach. But at the same time a number of people who are in emergency housing need that kind of intervention in their lives, otherwise they'll just be on a merry-go-round.  

And at the moment, it seems that you've either got a choice between the ‘hands-off free market approach’ (which is on the right) and on the left, you've got the ‘let's into their homes and spoon feed them and keep them there and just keep throwing good money after bad’. Is there a happy medium?  

And when it comes to young people, Generation Z - is owning a home at the top of your wants and desire list? The build to rent market is growing. It's small, but it's growing. And the flexibility offered by built to rent overseas is something that those behind the building developments are hoping will take off here. Pets are are welcome, you're allowed to decorate your rental in your own style and your own fashion. There's on site gyms. There's a concierge, a BBQ area. It's a really flash apartment complex, basically. And you don't own the apartment, but you do have long-term tenure.  

So, if you're young, is home ownership on your radar? Built to rent is also being marketed at those nearing retirement age, not ready for a retirement village, perhaps can't afford to get into a retirement village. But you have the perks of retirement village living, in a build to rent property. For years, owning your own home was the Kiwi mantra. But when it becomes simply unaffordable, do we need to change our thinking? And look at long-term rental as part of the solution. Not all of it, but part of it. 



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