Wānaka’s housing market makes ‘money-grubbing respectable'
Wānaka has a new supermarket which will employ 200 people when fully staffed. Earning an average of $20 an hour, many of these new employees will be stunned to learn that locally, $600 per week is not an unusual asking price for rental accommodation. Even the most highly paid employee is unlikely to earn enough to qualify for a house deposit loan. Yet if they owned two houses as well as the one they lived in they’d get a loan like a shot.
Unaffordable housing is a chronic problem and not only in Wānaka. Discussions are taking place in California, Berlin and London to solve the accommodation crisis by freezing rents. Critics maintain that such a well-intentioned policy won’t work, it will simply depress supply and encourage the deterioration of rental properties. The same entrenched voter argument turned the current government off a proposal to introduce asset sales tax. Even if this do-nothing argument has some validity, it conveniently maintains the status quo for those who benefit from it.
One answer, since investment in residential property is a proven money-maker, is for large employers to build apartment blocks for employees. But only desperation would make that happen and it is not the employers but their workers who are desperate. The next bet would seem to be the government, but KiwiBuild homes in the Northlake development priced at around $645,000 were more insult than solution.
Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust executive officer Julie Scott said, "They're a little bit overpriced for what they are in terms of their value compared to what's available on the open market." She also noted “teachers, nurses, police, tradespeople, bar staff, retail management— everyone who's on pretty much less than $100,000 household income,” cannot get into the housing market.
The market has made money-grubbing respectable. It gives us crass updates on the greed index with comments like this in the ODT: “Otago property punters are upbeat about the housing market for 2020...expecting average house prices to increase in the next 12 months.” It makes you wonder if we’d get the same gloating commentary on the price of food in a famine.
The market’s message to the working poor and everyone else on Julie Scott’s list is: “You don’t count. I don’t care. Have a nice day.”
We have become conditioned to accept the market’s unconscionable discrimination against those in genuine need of affordable accommodation. New Zealand has become a nation of landlords with far too much influence on the health and welfare of too many people. The mad, out of control market, therefore, must be hobbled.
The solution requires the combined efforts of central and local government with the local initiative leading the way. It is time the Mayor, QLDC and Wānaka Community Board gave fairness a chance by thinking and acting on behalf of people shut out of the housing market.
Specifically, with government backing, borrow as many millions as it takes to solve the problem. If land-banking is a barrier, use a compulsory purchase order. If lack of builders is a barrier use a Chinese company with modular housing expertise. Build terraced houses and apartments for rent, rent to buy, and for sale at a price that challenges the exorbitant market price.
Let the market play in the mega-home sector and leave the provision of ordinary housing to people who care. Once the authorities have made a decision to act they should hand the project over to the Community Housing Trust.
Being sensitive to the primary needs of people before profit is hardly new thinking. Even children know it’s the right way to behave. Yet the fact that it will take courage to implement such a change of thinking makes you wonder how distorted our values have become.