Time to take back control

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    It’s far better to beg forgiveness than have to ask permission – that’s the Waiheke way.

    Or so I’ve heard more than a few times this past week.

    This go-getting mantra is the reason why we’ve got a smart new white cabin at the top end of Oneroa village where a disused bus stop once stood. It’s why the island symbolically went nuclear-free in the 1970s, GE-free in the 90s and TPPA-free in 2016. It’s why we seem to attract big thinkers to our small community.

    We like to think of ourselves as an island loaded with smarts, activism and entrepreneurial spirit – packed with the sort of folk who wouldn’t let a piece of sticky red tape gum up a good scheme.

    But it’s time we turned all that innovative intent to an urgent issue needing real attention: housing.

    Just ponder these five, all very real examples.

    A young professional couple recently landed on Waiheke from Europe so one half can work on a highly skilled, internationally acclaimed New Zealand project. The other half takes up a job in the island’s tourism sector. A poor experience with their landlord ends with them desperately searching for rental accommodation with the very real option of having to move off-island.

    An older, established Waiheke character whose home business offers a vital, caring role to the community discovers their landlord is selling their house and they’re left fighting to find a space both to live and carry on their work.

    A property manager is faced with telling a young family that their landlord is returning from overseas and wants their home back for Christmas. Another has to tell a group of tenants that their landlord doesn’t want to deal with the tenancy law changes coming into effect in February and is not renewing their agreement.

    An old Waiheke family with three generations living under the same roof as it’s the only way for them to afford to stay where their work is, faces a huge rental increase or the prospect of moving away.

    And that’s just what’s happening above the waterline. Waiheke is enduring a perfect storm of new tenancy legislation (which many single-property landlords fear tips the balance away from letting their homes), pandemic-fleeing Kiwis (who either want their investment properties back or have the overseas earnings to buy into the market), ridiculously low interest rates (which allow more people to consider buying into Waiheke’s housing stock for themselves rather than investing in rental properties), and soaring rental prices during the annual pre-summer rush of property owners wanting to cash in on short term holiday-makers.

    If we want to keep the variety of our tightknit community, it’s not an overstatement to say we are stepping over the brink into a crisis. We risk losing large swathes of our friends and neighbours. And it will take the innovative, focused thinking we so pride ourselves in to find a solution.

    All the examples above were told to me, unbidden, by different people in one afternoon last week. There will no doubt be countless others – each representing a household in turmoil.

    Both Chloe Swarbrick and Helen White put housing towards the top of their priorities as they fought for our vote in the general election – and now they’re both in the Beehive, it behoves them to look for an answer.

    But in many ways, ours is a unique challenge and will likely require a unique solution. Tourism, development, zoning, tank-water, our ageing population and the growing disparity between the wealthy and the workers are ingredients we understand because we experience them daily and see how they affect housing and the makeup of our population.

    It’s high time we took control and did something about it.• James Belfield

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