At a time when poverty on a global scale has never been lower in the entire course of human history, hundreds of thousands of voters in New Zealand are still receptive to a completely different narrative. The proprietors of this narrative point to statistics showing child poverty levels are getting worse (using a measurement that actually demonstrates income inequality, not poverty). 

 

The narrative says the minimum wage must increase radically, which feeds demands for a living wage because being paid the minimum offends their dignity. Demand for social housing, with more than 15,000 on the waiting list is the evidence for the failure of capitalism, and the 41,000 people defined as homeless reinforces that failure (90% of that figure actually live in temporary, shared or poor quality accommodation).

 

Is New Zealand in a poverty crisis or is it a product of the angry left, who will push the goalposts as far as it takes to manufacture a demand for their ideas? Well, of course there is  a segment of the population living in hardship. There is a significant number of working poor doing it tough year in,year out, barely providing the meagre basics for their families. To argue otherwise you’d have to be a cold-hearted prick and you’d be wrong.

 

What is the truth about New Zealand poverty and its cause? Green MP Golriz Ghahraman says “Poverty is man-made and we must dismantle the system that causes it.” The air-headed sloganism claiming that cause of poverty appeals to the brain-optional ‘feels’ of her target voters who fail to appreciate that poverty is actually the default position in life. In terms of dismantling the system that causes poverty, I couldn’t  agree more. 

 

Socialist political parties peddling a rhetoric which blames free-enterprise, wealth creation and individualism are the most destructive force against prosperity remaining in New Zealand today. The trade union movement, initially necessary to ensure basic dignity in the workplace has long lost any relevance or value; only 10% of private sector workers now belong to a union and believe me, our best and brightest aren’t beating a path to fill in the membership forms. That’s why their last hope for recovery depends on de-facto compulsory unionism in the form of the proposed Fair Pay Agreement regime.

 

Yes, the angry left are blowing the problem of poverty out of proportion, evidenced by the recent invention of ‘period poverty’ (women unable to go to school or work because they can’t afford $3 for a pack of 16 tampons), however let’s not do the poor a disservice by focusing only on the stupidity of the rhetoric in the debate. What is the single biggest expense for the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders? It is accommodation and this is a genuine and severe expense for even those that may have once considered themselves the upper-end of the middle class.

 

Whatever subsidies or charity or food in schools or period poverty or tales of heating the home with an open oven door are minute symptoms of an enormous problem that neither mainstream political party has ever come close to fixing. The clickbait headlines change only in their desperate inventiveness to sell advertising space next to the same old bloody story – housing is expensive because land is expensive because the tinkering with planning laws for the last forty years hasn’t made the slightest bit of difference to artificial price inflation. The National party won’t do a thing about it – even when Act and United Future gave them the numbers to pass serious RMA reform – because their donors and core supporters believe high asset values make them rich. It doesn’t. It just guarantees Council rates, charged as a proportion of asset value, go up every year.

 

National knew full well how the issue needed to be tackled, which is why they implemented Special Housing Areas in which the usual planning rules were disregarded by central government diktat. What a pity they chose a short-sighted deal with the Maori party to entrench tribal privilege via farcical RMA ‘reform’ over making Auckland, Queenstown and Christchurch entire Special Housing Areas. Lance Armstrong will always beat the National party when it comes to the matters of moral integrity and testicular fortitude.

 

When Labour released their housing policy prior to the 2017 election I naively allowed myself a smaller twitter of excitement. The foreign buyer ban was cheap racism and if it was going to make an impact on house prices (it wouldn’t) that would only be the result of artificial land scarcity encouraging speculative investment behaviour. The Kiwibuild program inspired by fond memories of Micky Savage in the distant past never going to clear the modern day hurdles of planning and health and safety regulation never imagined eighty years ago. However, concealed by geriatric moths was a flickering torch light of hope: a pledge to abolish the Auckland urban boundary! The price differential between land just inside and just outside of the urban boundary, was shown to be as high as 800% by the Productivity Commission in 2010.

I only have myself to blame of course. I’ve been in this game long enough to know better. In the last two years, Labour have done everything but abolish the urban boundary, the impact of which fuelled inflationary housing markets in the rest of the country years ago. Every other policy Labour has attempted has predictably turned to shit and I count New Zealand lucky that the artificial scarcity of land has been outdone by the Government’s genuine scarcity of brains or the situation would be much worse. 

 

Enter Greenpeace icon Megan Woods and bronze star Kris Faafoi. Woods is no intellectual heavyweight and Faafoi learned a couple of tricks in journalism school but these are the faces of Labour’s recovery and delivery. What they lack in economics 101 they make up in sufficient organisational ability to prove once again socialism doesn’t work. 

 

I’ve trotted out this line a long time and all that changes is the figure but I’ll do it again; I’m a 36 year old highschool dropout with no kids, no tertiary education who has worked in a supermarket for 21 years and rents. I still have not been targeted for handouts by Labour or National governments. I don’t want them but it would be nice to be able to say no. 

 

Labour thinks that additional changes to tenancy rules are just what lifelong renters need and no matter how loudly I yell, “NO!”, they aren’t listening. Every bloody regulation, subsidy, supplement, warrant or process they pass into law costs money and every additional cost imposed on landlords, whatever margins they imagine landlords enjoy, will be recouped thfrom renters. That nonsense idea the Green party has to implement a warrant of fitness on rental properties was actually offered by a business voluntarily in Wellington in 2017. It cost $2000 a home or the equivalent of me paying five weeks of rent. Those policy advocates, with a sufficiently strong heartbeat to compensate for being brain dead equate the ability understand economics with accusations that I’m a privileged white prick who hates the poor and doesn’t understand life is hard.

 

Sure, let’s play that game shall we? There are some horrific examples of rentals on the market and enough scumbags owning them to muddy the reputations of the majority of property investors. My first flat was shared with three other people, one of whom converted the foyer at the front of the house, between the front entrance and hallway, into a bedroom. The entire house was sinking sufficiently to one side that I placed bricks under one end of the bed to sleep level. Split between us, the rent was $65, perfectly affordable for my situation at the time. Eventually I tired of living with a loser who spent the day removing the stereo from their car to cover the rent money they drank and moved out. Some of the furniture actually made it to the next house without falling apart in my hands due to suboptimal mould to wood ratio.

 

Years later, after I met my husband we found an old 4 unit building in Remuera with a postcode to boast of, if not the building. At $220 a week it was sufficiently affordable to compensate for having landlords that didn’t give a flying flamingo about us. The lawn had to get sufficiently high to conceal one before it got cut and the ancient pipes resembled an intoxicated horn section when showering in the middle of winter. Eventually that property was sold to another investor who kicked us out, converted the one bedroom units into 2 bedroom units for international students which is how I eventually discovered the bond payment had not been placed into a trust as legally required taking, six months to get it back. The former owners were bankrupt and divorced but the ex-husband’s signature on his ex-wife’s tenancy agreement was enough for the tribunal to ensure I got my bond and costs.

 

It was a few nice cheap units and many years later (last year actually) when me and my husband next got screwed over in the rental market. However, this was the first time government regulation was the culprit. Remember that law making it compulsory to insulate rental properties and fines threatened should this not happen? We lived in an uninsulated unit in Forrest Hill for four and a half years, paying an average rent of just over $400 a week during that time. Yes, it went up a bit each year. No I don’t want to hear your plan for price controls. Being uninsulated probably made the property a bit colder during winter. I’m no builder and I don’t have a before/after example to work from, but will accept it contributed to a bit of dampness, mould and cold. Those wonders of modernity, the heater, jumper and Mr. Muscle were sufficiently adequate for our survival.

 

Half way through the tenancy, the landlord stopped offering one-year fixed leases which was a bit disconcerting but the rent stopped going up which was nice. In November 2018, I had a rental policy debate at Auckland University to attend and the very same day received a 90 day notice to leave the property as the landlord had decided to do a full-scale renovation while installing insulation. Little bit ironic, don’t you think?

We decided to move back across the bridge and find a rental in the Meadowbank area. Fortunately, childless homosexual couples are highly sought after by landlords so that wasn’t the difficult part. The difficult part was paying for the experience, which cost several thousand dollars only to spend thousands more fixing a broken down car twice then needing to borrow thousands of dollars on top of that to buy another car. Thank God I’m a privileged white man or this could have been a genuine sob story. The point of this tale of woe? We survived rental regulations implemented to protect low income families from greedy landlords by the skin of our teeth and if the UN climate model predictions turn out wrong, we will probably be OK.

 

I worry about the low-income families that spent 27% of their weekly income in the 90’s on housing but spend 55% now. Despite Working for Families, accommodation supplements, Auckland Action Against Poverty activists at the entrance of WINZ offices and all other support available, the working poor are a broken down car or an illness away from catastrophe. Moving out of their home because the landlord is legally required to install insulation isn’t going to help those families; it will destroy them. No wonder the waiting list for social housing is longer than it has ever been.

 

For the members of Generation Rent, this government is a lingering existential threat and Kris Faafoi is about to protect the fuck out of us. A summary of the next rental regulation tsunami includes:

 

  • Rent increases limited to once a year (One big increase replaces two small).
  • Improve tenant’s security by removing a landlord’s right to use no cause terminations to end a periodic tenancy agreement (that will be appreciated by the thousands of marginalised families who are now viewed as too risky to offer a tenancy).
  • Improve compliance with the law by increasing financial penalties and introducing new tools to take action against parties who are not meeting their obligations (the cost of those obligations will increase and be passed on to tenants by decent landlords – the scumbag minority will treat financial penalties as a cost of doing business IF they get caught).

 

This is only the next round of law reforms. Socialists are yet to discover the correct number of regulations needed to attain utopia and requirements to force landlords to permit pets, more healthy home laws etc. aren’t mentioned in this package. This comparatively mild list isn’t without its unintended consequences , which NZ Property Investor Federation executive officer Andrew King has already identified.

 

These new regulations won’t just punish their intended target (landlords) and those they’re meant to help (tenants), King says. They will punish every person living next door to tenants with anti-social behaviour and while there may be a housing shortage, there is no shortage of anti-social tenants. NZPIF research shows only 3% of tenancies are ended by 90 day notice each year and half of those are the result of anti-social tenant behaviour. It is predicted that equates to 7,000 tenants impacting upon up to 70,000 neighbours. The promised tools offered by the Government to manage antisocial tenants actually put the safety of victimised neighbours at risk because their cooperation will be required to end tenancies previously dealt with by the 90 day without reason rule.

 

There is genuine poverty in New Zealand and it isn’t all material hardship. What real poverty that does exist is fundamentally rooted in artificially inflated land values feeding higher costs of living. On top of that is the periphery of additional regulation dealing with symptoms without understanding the causes, fuelling further problems that socialists promise to solve.

 

There is a greater insidious form of poverty, the type of which one only finds abundant in wealthy first world democracies. It is a poverty of responsibility. It is a poverty of personal ownership and motivation. It is the sort of poverty that finds an excuse to sit on the couch instead of a reason to walk out the door and Labour governments are absolutely addicted to it. If we are ever to run out of people who blame everyone else but themselves when life gets hard (life will always get hard), Labour will go from government to non-existent.

 

I know that people can have brutal lives and often it isn’t even their fault. The government will never regulate away the inevitable suffering of life, but that won’t stop them creating infinite misery trying. If the solution to the problem is government, the cause is them too.

 

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