New Zealand’s housing crisis

PHOTO: Jacinda Ardern won a landslide re-election in October despite failing to deliver on a pledge to tackle New Zealand’s housing crisis © Hannah Peters/Getty

Booming prices drive surge in homelessness and endanger election pledge to tackle inequality

When Janet was forced to move out of her rental property in Auckland in 2019 because of asbestos contamination, she joined tens of thousands of New Zealanders caught in the grip of a chronic housing crisis. “We stayed in a leaky caravan for a bit and on friends’ couches and were only able to access emergency accommodation following a referral from an MP,” said the mother of three. Janet, who does not want her full name published for fear of being blacklisted by landlords, says rents are sky high and there is not enough social housing to meet soaring demand.

More than three years after Jacinda Ardern was elected prime minister on a platform of tackling the housing crisis and inequality, many experts say the situation has only become worse. “We’ve probably seen the biggest widening of wealth distribution that we have ever seen in New Zealand between people who own houses and those who don’t,” said Arthur Grimes, professor of public policy at Victoria University of Wellington.

Ms Ardern was re-elected in a landslide in October, as popular support surged for her adroit handing of the coronavirus pandemic and other crises. But analysts warn a failure to deliver on earlier promises could alienate voters. 20% Rise in house prices in the 12 months to the end of October “The Labour government came in fully intending to build houses. I’m not sure if it was naivety but it hasn’t happened,” said Jan Rutledge, general manager of De Paul House, an emergency housing service in Auckland.

New Zealand’s social housing waiting list has more than tripled to 21,415 since the 2017 election and rental prices have continued to outpace wage growth, with median rents climbing by 30 per cent since 2015. The homelessness rate is the highest in the OECD, although definitions of homelessness vary among the 37 member club of wealthy nations.