Don’t be resigned to renting being rubbish. It needn’t be!

Just your regular reminder that the munted way we do some things in New Zealand isn’t Just How It is. And, in fact, being better is straightforward!

This is from a recent, generally cheerful update on the state of NZ’s housing market, where Ged Cann reports on a NZ Herald investigation of the impact of changes in market & policy conditions. The headline frames pretty hard against “mega landlords” (compared to the friendlier-sounding “mum & dad investors”), but notes that numbers of first-home buyers are significantly on the up.

Cann nicely humanised this upbeat aspect of the story, featuring a Very Relatable Family now delighted at how their lives will change thanks to finally having (a big mortgage and) a home they own. Their relief, too, is super relatable.

But hold the phone.

Having a pet? Putting pictures on the wall? Not having to move every year or so?

This quintessential renter’s wistfulness is not yearning for a swimming pool, a personal library, a cupola, a spiral staircase. The quintessential renter’s yearning is… the stuff of basic human dignity.

Can we just let that sink in for a moment…

Basic. Human. Dignity.

Yet here in New Zealand we seem to think the only legitimate pathway to this basic human dignity is if you can afford to buy your own home.

We shouldn’t sigh and buy in (pun INTENDED) to this frankly bonkers attitude.

We can know it’s enraging:

Rent Rage, an animated cartoon by Toby Morris perfectly expressing the outrage and impotence that renting people feel when boomers tell them "you should just.."
click the image or here for the rest of the gloriously animated “Rent Rage” Pencilsword by Toby Morris

But it’s really not as intractable a situation as politicians, the Property Investors’ Federation, real estate agents et al would make you think.

Millions upon millions of people, worldwide, live rich lives with plenty of opportunity, built on the firm foundation of a dignified and secure living situation… while renting. (See Further reading.) Yes! All their lives! With the pictures they like to look at, with generations of pets, their own curtains. With a network of local relationships that flourish because they, their kids, their grandparents have been able to put down roots. People simply being able to be their better selves because they don’t have to invest so much mental and physical energy, money, time and stress in repeatedly solving the problem “oh gawd where can I possibly live?”

Renting is a really important kind of tenure and needs to play its right role in the housing ecosystem. In many cities, it does! Here’s one strong example:

But the thing that really surprised me when I moved [to Vienna] was how reasonable the rents are compared with London, New York and most other European capitals. The reason for this is Vienna City Council’s radical social housing policy. It is the largest property owner in Europe. Some 60 per cent of the population live in high-quality subsidised housing, including middle-class families and young professionals. Unlike London, nurses, teachers and public servants can afford to live in the centre.

Lessons From ViennaFinancial Times

Good inspiration – and we can make big improvements without having to fully Vienna-fy our towns and cities.

Here’s stuff that’ll help fix it!

Just for starters:

  1. Generation Rent, the seminal book by economists Selena and Shamubeel Eaqub, is just as relevant today as it was when written – while there are signs of some incremental improvements over 2017. It lays out a set of really basic, obvious, easy (yes) policy and law changes in New Zealand that would enable us to make renting in NZ its best self – which will let us be our best selves.
  2. Renters’ United packages these recommendations into specific categories for nationwide policy change: stable homes, fair rent, safe and healthy homes, and meaningful enforcement.
  3. This GreaterAuckland piece highlights a missing – and crucial – animal in New Zealand’s housing ecosystem which plays a huge role in places with more stable housing systems: cooperatives. There’s more of them coming on the scene and they’re a really great thing.

This is just three things to help us stop slipping into believing our options are “no pets, no pictures, no security” or a 50-year mortgage.

Don’t stop being angry, and also get energised about the good changes we can make.

Further reading:

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