Kelly-Jayne Ferry

PHOTO: Kelly-Jayne Ferry says the search for a new home was a ‘sobering’ experience [Ruth Hollinsworth/Ruth Holly Photography]

Wellington, New Zealand – Tougher rules for property investors and speculators came into force this month in New Zealand, as part of a government effort to tackle the country’s worsening housing crisis.

Under the new law, property investors will no longer be able to deduct mortgage interest from their taxable income.

The government is trying to focus on re-establishing housing’s primary role as a home rather than a financial asset and address the country’s housing shortage, soaring property prices, and homelessness.

The move follows a rise in house values of 145 percent during the past 10 years, according to Real Estate Institute New Zealand. Rental rates have also risen – by 37 percent in the last 10 years, according to Statistics New Zealand.

As of 2018, 42,000 people in the country were living without shelter, or in temporary or shared accommodation and Ministry of Social Development figures suggest more than 23,000 people are on the public housing register.

The dire situation has already attracted the interest of the Human Rights Commission, which in August announced plans to conduct a national inquiry into housing.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt says over the last 50 years successive governments have failed the New Zealand public.

In the 1970s there was a Royal Commission of inquiry into housing, which led to the creation of a national housing council that was disbanded just 10 years later.

“Looking back this was an important body that had oversight of the growing problem,” he said. “We took the eye off the ball and left everything to market forces.

“The Human Rights Commission doesn’t favour a public or private approach – that’s for the government of the day to decide, but whatever approach is chosen it must deliver and in recent years there’s no doubt whatsoever it has failed.”

Traditionally, New Zealand has been active in drafting international human rights law – including the right to a decent home – but it has not been so good at bringing those rights back home, he says.

“These treaties have been ratified, so they’re legally binding but somehow there’s an attack of amnesia when politicians and officials fly back home over the Pacific,” he said.

“The right to enjoy a safe, secure, decent home is critically important for wellbeing. Without a decent home, it’s very difficult for people to be active members of society.”

Al Jazeera spoke to some New Zealanders about their experience of finding a home.