This week two different reports made plain the escalating cost of housing in Wellington (of course – as always – focussed on home ownership).
The first report made plain the widening gap between housing cost and wages (a.k.a. “housing affordability”):
The average annual weekly wage increase of $28.06 was not enough to offset a $30,000 increase in the national median house price and an increase in the average mortgage interest rate from 5.52% to 5.86%,” the survey found.
In Wellington, this meant that housing affordability dropped by 7.7% for owner-occupiers.
The second demonstrated that while “first time buyers” are finding it harder, property investors are buying up more and more properties:
[A]ctivity among investors who owned two or more properties had hit a 10-year high. Big investors with more than 10 properties were the most active, buying about two out of every five homes in August.
Of course, this all puts more financial pressure on renters, with forecasts suggesting that rents in Wellington will rise even faster than the cost for owner-occupiers.
For those who can afford to buy, they are having to do so further and further away from the city:
The figures also suggested people were looking further afield for a first home, such as in northern Wellington suburb Tawa and in Hutt Valley, while multiple property owners were buying in Karori and other central-city suburbs, including Mt Victoria and Oriental Bay.
How long will it be before only the rich can afford to live in our city? How can we fight to make renting affordable and secure for people of all incomes?
Photo credit: Jason Jones via Flickr.
If you’ve rented in Wellington you’ve probably come across the property management company Quinovic, one of the largest (if not the largest).
Recently they published their post-election ‘analysis’ of the political landscape:
The summary take away – National would suggest they are creating a supportive / lower touch Government that allows the investor/property owner to get on and pursue their objectives, and earn a return for the resources they commit to the economy.
Setting aside the assertion that residential property owners are nobly contributing to the economy (how?), I think in this statement we see why we need to start challenging landlords to do better for their tenants.
From Quinovic’s perspective a status quo that delivers sky-high rents that keep rising, dangerously unhealthy housing and a total lack of security for renters is just spot on thank you very much.
Of course this is not surprising. Quinovic are – after all – managing property and tenants to maximise the profit for their clients. These profits require maximising income and minimising cost and so what the status quo really means for renters is an ever worsening situation where it becomes even harder to find and retain a safe, secure and affordable home.
This is why we need to start hearing from renters loud and clear, because a status quo that sees a baby die in an overcrowded mouldy house and families living in cars because they can’t afford a house is not the kind “business as usual” we need.
Since I started thinking and writing about this idea I generally been using the word tenant to describe the people we will aim to organise.
Tenant is the legally defined term and is used by existing organisations in other cities (the Tenants Protection Association in Auckland and Christchurch, the Manawatu Tenants Union in Palmerston North) and of course the Tenancy Tribunal, so naturally I fell into using it too.
A few days ago someone who has been thinking longer and deeper about renting in New Zealand suggested I consider renter instead. My initial thought was of the baggage that term carries with it thanks to the TV show Renters, but on further reflection I think there is a case for using renter over tenant.
First, many of the people we would like to recruit and organise are not the formal “tenant” of the property. Nevertheless they will be paying rent and even if they don’t immediately identify with renter they sure as hell know they are paying rent so there is an association there. If someone is not familiar with the term tenant (which is somewhat technical and legal in nature), or if their renting situation is not legally a tenancy – such as boarders and other “grey-market” renters – the term renter should offer a sense that this thing if for them to.
Second, I feel that the word renter is more active and feels like something that common cause could be built around. In my head it feel analogous to worker, whereas tenant feels like it reflects a passive contractual relationship, more akin to employee in a workplace setting. This will help us express the need to focus on campaigning for wider change, rather than focussing on advocacy services for individual members.
This may be a somewhat trivial matter but I do think that language matters as organising is fundamentally about communicating. We need to choose our words wisely.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
A question: how many of the politicians, civil servants, journalists and academics that discuss and debate housing are renters?
Whether sympathetic or otherwise, the reality is that few of the people involved in the public discourse around rentals have substantial experience of it.
Of course most politicians will have a nostalgic experience of a #characterbuilding experience in a drafty old flat, feeling that a couple of cold winters under three duvets offers them an insight into the reality of renting.
But this actually serves to reinforce the idea that renting is a temporary experience. For hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders renting is not temporary. It is living. The “dream” of home-ownership is just that, a dream.
For people without the means to pull together a deposit and the stability of income to commit to a mortgage their path to a securing a healthy, safe and affordable home must be through renting.
And yet we have nothing in place, legally or otherwise, that can deliver this.
We need organisations that work towards making this happen, that is what I want to get going. So that renters speak for themselves on these issues and so it becomes harder and harder for politicians to wax lyrical about their student days in Aro Street.
Renting is not a temporary or transitionary circumstance, especially in a distorted housing market like Wellington. We need to hear more renters in the public discourse because at the moment all the solutions proposed to the housing crisis only aim to address the supply of housing for homeownership and thus ignore one third of all households in our country.
Photo credit: Nick Thompson via Flickr.