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Published on November 6th, 2015 | by Joe Kelly

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Housing crisis deepens

The housing crisis facing working people in New Zealand continues to deepen with tens of thousands homeless and home ownership now impossible to achieve for many working class people.

House prices in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, are rising by more than NZ$300 per day, a figure higher than the average daily salary! It is widely accepted, even by right-wing newspapers such as the Auckland Herald, that it is impossible to afford a home in Auckland on an average wage.

As the population grows more people are fighting over fewer rental properties. Meanwhile, the recent census shows tens of thousands of luxury homes and apartments in Auckland are empty; kept as holiday homes for the rich.

New legislation proposed by the ruling National Party will allow the government to sell or otherwise dispose of any or all state housing in New Zealand. For years governments have chosen to run down state housing stock, refusing to adequately maintain the properties in order to justify sale or demolition. Much of the private rental housing is of terrible quality, with many New Zealanders considered to be ‘in accommodation’ when they are actually living in caravans, old hospitals and sheds.

Prime Minister John Key has refused to call this situation a crisis. Of course, for the landlords, investors and property developers it is not a crisis at all but an opportunity to make huge amounts of money at the expense of working people.

The current housing crisis is a direct result of neoliberal policies adopted by both Labour and National governments over the last few decades. Firstly, the ‘partnership’ approach to trade unionism – a hallmark of Labour’s adoption of neoliberalism – has seen wages flat line since the 1980’s. With property prices growing steadily while wages stagnate, it was only a matter of time before workers could no longer afford a family home.

In the same period the population has grown significantly but the number of houses being built has not matched this. An ideological reliance on the market meant that both Labour and National governments stopped building state houses to meet housing needs. Existing state houses have been sold off or allowed to deteriorate to the point where they are a risk to the health of those living in them.

In the name of deregulation – another corner stone of neoliberalism – both major parties have resisted imposing tax on the profits from the sale of homes. This means that profits made on the sale of property is tax-free, making investment and speculation in property attractive to the ultra-rich, driving up prices for everyone else.

In attempt to divert blame the Labour Party has tried to specifically point the finger at Chinese investors for driving up house prices. Most New Zealanders recognised this as the racist dog-whistling that it was. After all, it’s Labour’s own policies that have fuelled speculative investment in the housing market.

The inability of any of the major political parties to address the housing crisis made clear by Labour MP David Clark when he spoke recently to protesting state-housing tenants. In response to their protest against the imminent sale of their homes, he said that the “next centre-left government” would “change the management of social housing”. Unsurprisingly this statement brought jeers and boos from the crowd.

Green MP Jan Logie, while taking part in the protest and expressing solidarity with the marchers, was not able to outline a strategy to save any state housing disposed of by the current government.
To find solutions to the housing crisis we need to build a movement of state-housing tenants, private renters, would-be home owners and trade unions. This could be achieved under a program that calls for a halt to the sell-off of all state housing, proposes introducing a cap on rent increases, and demands massive public investment in the construction of new public housing to meet demand for affordable housing.

This will require to development of a workers’ movement with a socialist program to address the issues working people face. It is becoming increasingly clear that capitalism is incapable of meeting our basic needs. Ultimately only a socialist New Zealand/Aotearoa, democratically run by workers, will be able to prioritise the needs to working people and ensure good quality, safe, warm housing is afforded to all.

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