A couple of weeks ago Arthur Grimes, the former chair of the Reserve Bank, was interviewed on Nine to Noon by Kathryn Ryan. The occasion was a report by his research lab Motu, which had discovered a 1:6 cost:benefit ratio for the government’s insulation subsidy scheme, one which the University of Otago’s Philippa Howden-Chapman called “the strongest evidence the government has around social investment”. It’s also being wound down, despite 600,000-900,000 homes remaining with either inadequate insulation, or no insulation at all.
It was a reminder, yet again, of what a shitty place New Zealand can be to rent a home. Grimes explained the cause of the phenomenon succinctly.
“New Zealand has a very odd structure in terms of landlords,” he told Ryan, “in that we have a lot of, essentially what I’d call amateur landlords. They don’t have the expertise to do it properly. And it’s a very poor service that they provide.”
Maybe that was always the case. But, while that’s never been good enough, it matters more now: over half of the New Zealand population now lives in a rental, and the numbers are higher where they’re always higher: Māori and Pasifika. These statistics, gathered in the 2013 census, largely pre-date the worst excesses of the housing crisis – and so are likely to have grown apace since.
This has left vast numbers of our young, and significant amounts of our old, trapped in the rental market – dealing with homes which are often cold, damp, mouldy, expensive and in poor condition. And because so many of the protections which exist in other countries are absent here, a tenant’s ability to reliably locate a quality, stable long-term rental comes down to luck. Which doesn’t seem like a solid basis for the single biggest and most important expense in your household budget.