So how did we get to be on the UN’s mat for a shameful lack of housing for our citizens and the wiping out of internationally recognised human rights to adequate housing – to which we actually subscribe?
In the early 1970s, as a couple of very young journalists (in a chronically underpaid industry), we set about building our own ocean sailing yacht. It was very low key. In those days, families in Auckland owned a sailing or motor vessel for the halcyon summer weekends as of right and home-built yachts were common. In the grassroots sailing fraternities in Devonport and Whangarei, there were already many global circumnavigations in small local yachts on the records.
We could have (as did at least one potential crew member) opted for a house deposit and down-payment on a lounge suite. However, the handsome 42-foot ketch Pendragon we built in a waterfront boatyard on the Whangarei river seemed, and was, a profoundly interesting way to see the world.
We left a New Zealand that was in pretty good shape. You couldn’t buy a new car without British currency and nobody minded much. Every man was his own mechanic. Home ownership was extremely high, neighbourhood concreting projects occupied weekends in the suburbs and university education was a right. Everyone had “enough” and “old” wealth was discrete and respectful.
Returning across the Pacific via the Galapagos and French Polynesia four years later, not so much.
Sun-bleached and basking in Auckland’s undoubted, if unofficial, role as capital of the Pacific, we were still at sea when we heard the news of bellicose Prime Minister Robert Muldoon’s clampdown on Pacific island “overstayers”. It shocked us deeply and when we reached New Zealand, Whangarei township’s street corners had seemingly sprouted Marac money lending offices on every street corner and Westhaven’s car parks had a lot more BMWs and a decidedly more decorative class of weekend “sailors”.
It got worse quickly: first with Muldoon’s “Think Big projects and his death-dealing heist on the country’s exemplary superannuation fund, and then, within the decade, with the arrival of Rogernomics and everything was on the block for sale. By the end of the 1980s, we had a reserve bank built on the capitalist model but had lost our real banks to Australia; most of us never did quite catch up with the smoke and mirrors ethos in which assets were stripped and New Zealand was turned from a sturdy manufacturing economy to a weedy financial services one.
In real life, market ideology and stagnant wages had created an exponential inequality in society almost overnight. Regulatory protections, including overseas investment protections, were swept away, along with social safety nets and public services, from post offices and railways to mental healthcare.
By 2013 and with the second Auckland Supercity bedded in, housing was to be the next target.
Thousands of state homes in Glen Innes, Point England and Panmure were transferred to a government-owned company in 2016 and emptied of long-time tenants, inflicting vicious hardship and the unwholesome sight of empty houses awaiting new ownership.
Meanwhile, unseen, a shift in net migration numbers also came into play.
Government statistics of monthly net migration show numbers rose rapidly from roughly neutral in 2012 to more than 17,000 the next year, 58,000 in 2014, 60,000 in 2015, and nearly 63,000 in 2016. In total, net migration between 2013 and the end of 2019 was 374,000.
In the first three months of 2020, a further 35,748 migrants arrived as Covid-19 was striking. The flawed measures of GDP were through the roof. Housing was in short supply and there was insatiable demand. Pure laissez faire economic heaven.
Meanwhile, the social fabric of the country was in tatters. Little was known of those additional numbers and it’s not going to be any easier to fix now, what with building supply chains, hefty council compliance costs, a thriving investor market and the highest house prices in the known universe.
And even then, new arrivals and returning Kiwis with offshore money will still have the edge on young New Zealanders when the gavel falls. Even if we had done better for the communities and generations most disadvantaged and had spotted and dodged the neoliberal plunder over the past 30 years, we would still be short of house numbers for this dramatic rise in population.
Backpack travel and migrating elsewhere has always given us perspective – and perhaps a bit of smugness – as we observe and work in other cultures. I find it hurts more when you are on home soil. The task ahead for the new team of 5.15 million is to properly define the problem before we all start the mahi. Then aim for quality for everyone. • Liz Waters