We have a homelessness problem in New Zealand. We also have 40,000 ghost homes in Auckland alone – properties deliberately left empty by hoarders, who just want to accumulate the tax-free capital gains. Writing in Newsroom, Cat MacLennan suggests looks at how we could use them to solve the homelessness crisis:
In New Zealand, the Government and Auckland Council are examining how vacant houses in the city could be used for the homeless or low-income workers. Mayor Phil Goff has spoken to ministers and says several thousand vacant homes could be pressed into service, perhaps for the Housing First programme, which finds shelter for homeless people, or for workers such as teachers, nurses and police officers who find it hard to obtain affordable accommodation.
We should look overseas to see what is being done there. Reoccupying existing homes is much speedier and cheaper financially than constructing new dwellings – in Scotland, for example, the average cost of renovating an empty property is between £6000 and £25,000, compared with the average new build outlay of £120,000.
In addition, it is less harmful environmentally to renovate than to construct from scratch.
A number of countries now tax homes left vacant for long periods. This raises revenue that councils can use for empty homes work but, more importantly, it is designed to nudge property owners into turning their houses back into homes.
Having houses lying empty in order to accumulate “wealth” while we have homelessness is simply vile. Taxing them is the least we can do. But if it continues, maybe we should look at simply seizing them under the Public Works Act for public use as state or emergency housing (and maybe homeless people should just start doing that themselves, UK-style). Houses should be homes, not investments.