You know how people like the Greens and climate activists bang on about the connection between social issues and environmental issues? And why Just Transition matters?
Well, here’s New Zealand’s first major example visible to the mainstream: the climate-crisis-generated Auckland floods of the last week took out many homes. Which means that our already existing housing crisis just got worse (and not just for Auckland, there will be flow on effects to the whole country). While New Zealand has been largely able to ignore the displacement from climate events on the West Coast (where more than 400 homes were not repaired 1 year on from the July 2021 floods), Auckland will be much harder to ignore.
Just to recap: rents in recent decades have increased out of proportion to income increases (wages and/or benefits), which means that low income renters are perpetually held in poverty, and middle income renters are being forced downwards.
There are already reports that rents will rise. Reports from the rentier classes,
President of the Auckland Property Investors Association Kristin Sutherland said the rent hikes were not landlords using the last week’s severe flooding events to make more profit, but simply market forces at work.
In other words, landlords will be able to take advantage of the additional squeeze on housing to increase rents.
Fortunately, community groups are on it. Renters United and Action Station along with 20+ community groups are calling on the government to put a temporary rent freeze in place.
For many people in Tāmaki Makaurau their largest expense is rent. With less than a week passing since the floods we are already seeing property investment groups preparing to increase rents for communities devastated by flooding. While renters are struggling to clean and repair their homes, and get kai back on the table, the last thing they need is the looming threat of yet another rent increase.
An historic and continuing under investment in public housing has led to a sector that puts profit before people, but it’s not too late to put communities first.
We, the undersigned, are calling on you, as the Minister for Auckland, to put your communities first in response to the flooding by putting a temporary freeze on rent increases.
As the Chloe Swarbrick and the Greens are pointing out,
“Poverty is a political choice. We implore the Govt to use their power to freeze rents, like many of the grassroots organisations who have responded to the flooding this weekend, bc some landlords have clearly indicated they intend to abuse their power.”
The following is to pre-empt the arguments against prioritising people over investment.
For the ‘what about the landlords?’ argument, it’s really simple. People’s desire for passive/investment income doesn’t trump people’s human right to housing. If you cannot afford to run a rental property, including how to pay for emergencies and repairs, then sell the house to someone who can.
If private landlords want to sell up en masse, good. Let central and local government make use of the opportunity to increase social housing stock. Iwi are probably interested too.
For the ‘what about the Mum and Dad investors?’ I’ve made the argument before that government policy should protect such investors where possible, because it doesn’t have to be a choice between the middle and working/under classes. We also need to look at the decades long bad advice about retirement income advocating property investment, which leads to a bigger conversation about how we look after retirees and the elderly.
For the reactionary ‘rent freezes make things worse’ argument, it depends on how they are done.
We had a rent freeze during the pandemic, and then rents rose again afterwards, which led to the New Zealand Human Rights Commission in August last year to reinstate the rent freeze,
HRC housing inquiry manager Vee Blackwood said more than half of renters were spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent.
“The overall cost should be no more than 30 percent of your income after tax being spent on your housing costs, but we know that almost half of renters do spend that or more and this is predominantly felt by those on the lowest incomes,” Blackwood said.
Long term rent control is used in a number of countries in Europe. Here’s an example from Vienna, Austria.
Of note with this against argument is that the examples are of where rent control is done badly and doesn’t work instead of where it’s done well and does work. As with everything, we need multiple, intersecting solutions, not single silver bullets.
For the BUILD MOAR HOUSES argument, sure, we now need replacement houses and temporary accommodation while repairs are done, alongside new housing.
But slapping down lots of housing without thinking about the bigger picture creates more problems. Infilling suburbs increases the impacts of climate by reducing the amount and distribution of spaces that have trees and other plants. Trees lower local temperatures, and trees and plants can be used to mitigate water in high rain events. More hard surfaces like roofs and driveways increased the catchment of water that flows too fast and into places that can’t cope.
Unbuilt spaces are also needed to grow food locally, because local food lowers GHG emissions and is more resilient to extreme weather and climate. We can expect increases in food costs from crops lost in the last week, as well as crops lost to the global food supply. That’s on top of the current rising cost of living.
The housing crisis has to be talked about in the context of both populations and the carrying capacity of increasingly burdened ecological systems as they adapt to the climate crisis.
All the things are connected rather than a set of separate units of problematic effects that impact on BAU, and the best and sustainable solutions come from thinking about whole systems and how to transition everything.