Mort­gages and mem­o­ries

Central Leader - - NEWS -

It was about the time that Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Harold Macmil­lan told Bri­tish vot­ers in a speech in Bed­ford: ‘‘You’ve never had it so good.’’

It was 1957 and he was sum­ming up Bri­tain’s re­cov­ery from the cash-strapped years of war.

In the lan­guage of our time, that sen­tence ‘‘went vi­ral’’ – from the Con­ser­va­tives of those days who be­lieved it im­plic­itly, through to a scep­ti­cal work­ing class in thrall to the trades unions.

In the end that slo­gan de­fined Macmil­lan’s era – that, and a very prophetic line about ‘‘the winds of change sweep­ing Africa’’, which he used in a speech to the South African Par­lia­ment in Fe­bru­ary 1960.

Ah, 1957 – I re­mem­ber the process then that took thou­sands of New Zealan­ders like us through the won­der­ful sys­tem which de­liv­ered our first house in our mid to late 20s. That’s how we felt too. We had never had it so good.

Remembering the ex­pe­ri­ence, my heart bleeds for young peo­ple in this gen­er­a­tion now that that op­por­tu­nity is be­yond them – they must of­ten feel that those op­por­tu­ni­ties have gone for­ever.

Ap­par­ently our ra­tio of house prices to in­come is among the high­est in the world.

Cer­tainly thou­sands of young New Zealan­ders can’t see their way to save enough for a de­posit, much less cov­er­ing the high in­ter­est and mort­gage re­pay­ments in the years that fol­low. (As well as paying off stu­dent loans.)

Those who fol­lowed my gen­er­a­tion into first homes didn’t have it any­where as good as my gen­er­a­tion. The real facts of home-own­ing struck home to them when those sim­ple mort­gages around 3 per cent soared to a crip­pling 16 per cent.

This was the stage when a young fam­ily mem­ber called on his bank man­ager ask­ing for his ad­vice when his mort­gage shot up to an in­ter­est rate even higher than that. Feel­ing hope­less, he asked the man be­hind the desk: ‘‘What would you do if you were in my sit­u­a­tion?’’

The man­ager’s cold re­ply: ‘‘I would never have al­lowed my­self to get into that po­si­tion.’’

The young man sold up and took his young fam­ily to Aus­tralia.

Apart from be­ing forced into sub­stan­dard houses at high rentals, young fam­i­lies are be­ing de­prived of a pat­tern of life I be­lieved was not only pos­si­ble for all but also some­thing which was some­how an un­writ­ten en­ti­tle­ment.

The first fam­ily home I re­mem­ber buy­ing was in Matipo Rd, Te Atatu, one of a group of three spec houses with a long empty space be­tween us and the largely pre-war homes of an ear­lier par­tial devel­op­ment.

Un­like young peo­ple of to­day, we had never been forced to slum it.

The flats we had lived in had been clean and tidy, though ad­mit­tedly some­what tired.

But this house was some­thing again, with its smell of fresh paint, the smooth sur­faces of the walls and no chipped doors, no drip­ping taps or grub in the bath­room, all the win­dows open­ing eas­ily to let the coun­try­like scene in.

And it was ours! Of course there were some un­fore­seen haz­ards. I came home from the Auck­land Star one af­ter­noon and there were dig­gers and trac­tors go­ing about their busi­ness on the open land be­hind us – which the agent had told us was ‘‘to be a park for the chil­dren’’.

But when I in­quired from one of the drivers when the first swings and slides would be ar­riv­ing, he gave me an in­dul­gent smile, an old­fash­ioned look, and waved: ‘‘Not here, mate. That’s right up there. There’s 300 Neil houses go­ing in here.’’

And they did. Not to worry. This place was ours. We were free to re­paint it as we liked. I can still re­mem­ber the night I did, the jade wall I pro­duced in the sit­ting room, and the Tretchikoff print of a Zulu woman I hung on it. (You’ve got to get your eye in some­time!) More than 50 years later, I shud­der a lit­tle at the re­mem­bered re­sult.

But af­ter all, the place was ours. Then they bull­dozed the old shed in the dis­tance and dozens of rats made a run for it. But not far. As far as our new garage where they gorged them­selves on the first bag of seed pota­toes I had ever bought and then tun­nelled them­selves into a new home in the dirt floor. Which I had to dig up to get rid of their stink­ing bod­ies af­ter they dined in on my poi­son.

Then there was our ver­sion of cricket with neigh­bour Bill White – bowl­ing and bat­ting in the twi­light on the new foot­paths around the empty loop down to the stream. The first morn­ing I woke in the house, I looked out the win­dow and there was a small­ish boy walking along with his fish­ing rod over his shoul­der and a big fish in his hands.

Very Huck­le­berry Finn. All this was ours! How? Brace your­self. In those days, the Government paid par­ents a fam­ily ben­e­fit of 10 shillings a week per child. You could ap­ply for, and get hun­dreds of those pounds in ad­vance for a home de­posit. It was called cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion, and you could only do it once.

Loans were avail­able from State Ad­vances at around 3 per cent.

More than that, com­pa­nies like the Auck­land Star with a wel­fare ethic came to the party with more cash if needed for a sec­ond mort­gage for staff at around 4 per cent.

There is some­thing of the same so­cial think­ing in the Greens’ plan which would have up to $300,000 ba­sic houses to be rented or rented to buy.

Odds on new Min­is­ter of Hous­ing Dr Nick Smith – back from the po­lit­i­cal cold – won’t en­dorse it. But he should. He needs to do some­thing and fast to meet a se­ri­ous and de­bil­i­tat­ing so­cial cri­sis.

As it is, he may feel he’s been given a poi­soned chal­ice with the hous­ing port­fo­lio.

Well Nick, prove them wrong. Thou­sands of the home­less as well as the coun­try at large want you to get it right. Build the houses, and change the lives of chil­dren and their par­ents who will then have mem­o­ries to match mine, of a first home they’ll never for­get.

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