For ethnic migrants who have been in the country for less than a decade the recently announced new housing standards and the ensuing debate around it raises an important question of who has got it right – the government or the opposition.
Although, one’s answer to this query would depend more on the political views they subscribe, yet it is essential to un-clutter the political noise around the issue for the benefit of many in our Kiwi-Indian community, many of whom might be seeing first change of government and ensuing politics in last decade.
However, what comes to mind to new migrants is if the problem of housing standards is a crisis at all or if it is a crisis of the scale our politicians want us to believe, then why nothing substantial had ever been done in recent memory to address the crisis.
Is the housing standard really a crisis?
There seems to be an unequivocal acceptance at the political level that NZ housing conditions are in shambles.
Housing Minister Phil Twyford said, “Nearly 600,000 households rent in New Zealand, and our rental stock is of poorer quality than owner-occupied homes. It’s estimated about 200,000 families live in rental homes that do not have a ceiling or underfloor insulation.”
National Party Leader Simon Bridges also acknowledges the problem of lack of proper insulation in New Zealand Houses.
Speaking on TVNZ1's Breakfast Mr Bridges said, “It’s clearly not OK that 47 per cent of houses is damp and mouldy.”
“The Government is well-intentioned, but what really concerns me ... the residential tenancy changes ... is that it’s driving up rent some 40 bucks more a week,” Mr Bridges said.
This outrageous acceptance at the highest political levels about the condition of housing in New Zealand brings to another critical question of why the problem has not been addressed so far?
Why has the problem not been addressed so far?
Most of the western world living within a winter climate zone has well insulated, well-heated homes. Why not in New Zealand?
Historically, much of New Zealand's housing was built at a time when insulation was just not really understood here and considered an optional extra. Nowadays many of us just take it fore-granted that it's just the way it is, in the absence of some minimum acceptable standards.
It seems, in the absence of any credible evidence, that successive governments, both National and Labour, had procrastinated decisive action to avoid any voter backlash for fear of incurring costs on landlords, which could potentially be passed on to renters.
Why is this government ready to act now?
Given the fact that there is an overwhelming consensus that New Zealand is going through a housing crisis, this government has got some extra confidence that it can act decisively, without risking much backlash from the voters in the next elections.
In government’s view, there will not be huge costs of implementing new housing standards and it will not be passed on to the renters, possibly in good faith, or based on the strength of the market.
What is the current political-noise?
While government coalition partners Labour and Green are busy in patting their back for being able to bring an important, and much-desired change, requiring landlords to pull up their socks and deliver warm and dry homes to the renters.
The opposition is busy in criticising the government for forcing landlords to “foot the bill,” who will eventually pass it on the same renters that the government is apparently trying to help with warm and dry homes.
Who has got it right – the government or the opposition?
Right now it seems that both the government and the opposition have failed to get it right and are busy in projecting their views only, without genuine interests of all New Zealanders involved.
While National Party needs to be told that their seemingly honest admission that nearly half of all housing stocks in NZ are poorly insulated is not acceptable at all in NZ – a modern western developed economy.
The risk of not doing anything for their brand of fiscal-conservatism is neither a good look nor acceptable for the brand New Zealand.
Something definitely needs to be done, and from the government, as market alone has not fixed this anomaly on its own for a long time.
However, this government also has not got it right altogether as introducing new housing standards without footing the bill or providing any assistance/support is unfair on landlords, and not all of them are some suited-booted “investors.”
Many are indeed, mom and pop investors who would not have enough cash available at their disposal to foot the bill.
Moreover, what’s the point if renters alone end up paying for fixing what seems to be a problem of generations of poor housing standards in NZ.
Anyway renters for whom this government is claiming to bring the changes always had the option of heating and keeping their homes warm by spending more money on heating.
If the government is hoping that they would be able to fix something that has been the defining challenge of NZ housing for at least few decades (when affordable insulation technology truly arrived), without any additional costs – then it is nothing more than wishful thinking.
Right now, what government has done is merely introduced new housing standards with best intentions for everyone, without much preparatory and support-system in place to ensure that the burden is equitably shared among all stakeholders, viz, landlords, renters, and the government.
A more nuanced approach of offering a time-based implementation of new housing standards with some limited or full subsidy to the landlords would have addressed one of the most pervading problems of housing standards in NZ.
Right now it is clear that both have not got it right.