New Zealand housing crisis sparks human rights inquiry

WELLINGTON • The housing crisis in New Zealand is having a "punishing impact" on marginalised communities and leaving many people homeless, the country's human rights commission said as it launched an inquiry into the red-hot property market.

Cooling measures enforced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier this year have had no impact on runaway house prices in New Zealand, as investors cashed in on historically low interest rates and cheap access to capital under the government's pandemic-inspired stimulus spending.

Property prices in New Zealand have soared by the most among OECD nations, rising about 30 per cent in just the past 12 months.

"The housing crisis in Aotearoa is also a human rights crisis encompassing home ownership, market renting, state housing and homelessness," chief human rights commissioner Paul Hunt said in a statement yesterday, using the country's indigenous Maori name.

New Zealand's pandemic-inspired policies have translated into cheaper mortgages, allowing affluent "kiwis" to upsize their homes and build up portfolios of rental investment properties, fuelling a further surge in house prices.

The nearly 30 per cent year-on-year rise, on top of a 90 per cent rise in the preceding decade, has locked out first-home buyers and low-income earners.

The median house price in the biggest city Auckland has risen by 25 per cent to NZ$1,150,000 (S$1,084,000) in June this year from NZ$920,000 last year.

The United Nations special rapporteur on adequate housing Leilani Farha said in her report in June that consecutive governments have failed to ensure that the housing market meets the needs of the people.

Soaring prices and rents have forced families into emergency housing like motels, with about 23,000 individuals and families waiting for public housing.

Under pressure, Ms Ardern launched a raft of measures this year to tax investors and discourage speculators, but these have had only a marginal impact.

The rising inequality inflamed by the housing crisis is arguably the biggest political challenge facing Ms Ardern's centre-left Labour-led government. The 41-year-old's popularity had soared with her response to the pandemic that kept nationwide cases to barely 2,500 and led to an emphatic election win last year.

But her support has been slipping, with the latest Newshub-Reid Research Poll on Sunday showing support for Labour had fallen to 43 per cent, down almost 10 points since the last poll in May, while the main opposition National Party's support inched up to almost 29 per cent.

Ms Ardern defended her government's record on housing, saying it was pulling every lever to ensure everyone gets a warm, dry home.

"When I look at the record of what we've done, 8,000 houses to date, 18,000 on the cards. We are scaling up as quickly as we can," Ms Ardern told state broadcaster TVNZ in a interview after the inquiry was announced.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2021, with the headline 'New Zealand housing crisis sparks human rights inquiry'. Subscribe