Too many Ki­wis left be­hind

Nelson Mail - - COMMENT&OPINION -

it is just one dis­turb­ing symp­tom of a chronic, mas­sive, long-term fail­ure of the mar­ket, suc­ces­sive govern­ments and their agen­cies to ad­dress a grow­ing im­bal­ance.

Call it the widen­ing gulf be­tween the haves and the havenots, or maybe the grow­ing in­equal­ity in wealth and in­come. What­ever you call it, this won’t be solved – al­le­vi­ated pos­si­bly, but cer­tainly not solved – by a pro­gramme to build more houses. It won’t be solved in one par­lia­men­tary cy­cle.

The num­bers are dis­turb­ing, but sadly, for the most part, not sur­pris­ing: They high­light that there is a short­age. We knew that. It is sig­nif­i­cant. Again, this is some­thing a num­ber of agen­cies and com­men­ta­tors – in­clud­ing au­thors of this re­port – have been telling us for quite a while.

What is pos­si­bly more in­ter­est­ing and trou­bling is the num­ber of Ki­wis for whom the dream of home own­er­ship has been down­sized to the costly, dreary re­al­ity of rent­ing. And what a cost they are bear­ing.

Over the past decade close to three-quar­ters of ‘‘new house­holds formed’’ have been in a rental home.

New Hous­ing Min­is­ter Phil Twyford can tut-tut all he wants and point to the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment in search of blame, but this has been a trend decades in the mak­ing, in­volv­ing politi­cians of all hues.

In 1986, 26 per cent of chil­dren un­der the age of 15 lived in a rented home; over the past 30 years that has risen to 43 per cent and shows no sign of stop­ping. In 1991, 59 per cent of Maori were owne­roc­cu­piers; in 2013 it was just 23 per cent.

The body blows don’t stop there for renters. Shut out of the prop­erty mar­ket by sky­rock­et­ing hous­ing prices, those rent­ing are of­ten dealt an­other fi­nan­cial hard­ship by their land­lord: of house­holds pay­ing more than 40 per cent of their in­come in hous­ing, about 65 per cent are ten­ants. And to top things off, those rent rises have far out­stripped wage in­creases.

Other sta­tis­tics are against them: rental prop­er­ties are more likely to be ‘‘poorly main­tained’’ than owner-oc­cu­pied prop­er­ties, and those liv­ing in the for­mer are more likely to be ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal and die young.

The stock­take paints a sorry pic­ture of a grow­ing Kiwi sub­class: a large body of peo­ple left be­hind by the eco­nomic re­forms of the past 30 years and the harsh re­al­ity of an un­af­ford­able present and fu­ture. Their best hope is not home own­er­ship but a safe, warm, rea­son­ably priced rental that al­lows them to keep their fam­ily fed, safe and healthy.

For so many that re­mains a for­lorn hope. A pipe-dream.

That is not a cri­sis, it’s a tragedy.

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