By (Guest Contributor) Pink Panther

houseboat

Want to own a home? Just buy a decent yacht with all the whistles and bells. It’ll be cheaper and easier. A yacht with a cabin containing berths, galley (kitchen), shower and toilet will set a person back about $50,000 to $250,000 depending on the age, size, facilities and modifications (based on listings on http://www.tradeaboat.co.nz). The average house price in Auckland is about $764,000 according to the March 1st edition of the NZ Herald. The Reserve Bank announced on May 13 that a 30% deposit will now be required to buy a house in Auckland. Therefore a deposit of $229,200 is needed just to get a mortgage. Suddenly that yacht doesn’t seem such a ridiculous idea after all, does it?

On May 17th, John Key announced that a tax will be charged on properties that are sold within two years of purchase. In addition, foreign property owners will be required to obtain a New Zealand bank account and an Inland Revenue Department number. Until these changes, the government had been focusing without much success on the supply of housing and had been ideologically reluctant to intervene to dampen demand. The new measures may have some effects around the edges but fail to address the greater problem of affordable housing. Undoubtedly, the Reserve Bank requiring a 30% deposit for buying a house in Auckland will have the biggest impact on local home buyers. The end result of imposing such a high deposit on home buyers will be the concentration of homes in the hands of speculators and corporate landlords. It will also result in higher rents as tenants effectively get stuck with paying the extra costs required by their speculating landlords.
Contrary to popular belief, the housing problem in Auckland isn’t caused by the lack of housing. It is the lack of affordable housing. Houses aren’t being built for people to live in but for those cashing in on the property bubble. Those speculators and corporate landlords who do rent properties often charge high rent. The median rent for a one bedroom place in Auckland is $450 a week according to the http://www.real estate.co.nz website. A three bedroom place averages about $520 a week. Let’s put this in context: the minimum wage is $14.75/hour. Work and Income defines full time work as 30 hours a week. $14.75 x 30 hours = $442.50. After tax (10.5%) that’s $396.04. A worker earning minimum wage or marginally more than that could not afford to meet the median rent in Auckland.

Even if a person can find a cheap place to live, there is considerable demand for such housing. This leads to another cause of the housing crisis: class bigotry. Some landlords are hostile to working class people and beneficiaries, particularly if they are from ethnic, sexual or religious minorities. These landlords perceive that such people will lower property values, trash the house or skip out without paying the rent. As there are so many more ‘desirable’ tenants available, those who most need the housing generally don’t get them. It is hard to prove that bigotry is the reason, so legal recourse often isn’t an option.

New Zealand has one of the highest Gross Domestic Products per capita in the world. Yet, people are homeless or live in squalor in poor quality homes rented out at exorbitant rents while whole streets of newly built homes remain empty. As Anarchists we have our own ideas about how to resolve this systemic paradox. Ideas that don’t involve tinkering with laws or otherwise waiting for the state to fix the mess capitalism has created. Assuming sufficient planning has been made, direct action by taking over these empty homes and distributing them to those who need them, would have an immediate positive effect. Let’s be honest though, we’re probably a long way off people taking that route.

There are other options such as drawing attention to examples of different models of ownership. In some countries, particularly in Europe, home ownership for individuals or nuclear families is often difficult because of the cost, so they form collectives to buy buildings to live in. An example of this is to be found in Kristiana, a self-styled micro-nation in Copenhagen, Denmark. Admittedly the latter is not without its own problems but is a step closer in the right direction. The pooling of financial resources and labour to build housing for those in need is also another possibility. This has been done particularly in parts of Eastern Europe by Habitat for Humanity. Another example is the Jehovah’s Witnesses who often set up committees to organise members of their cult into building halls and facilities over the course of a weekend. If such ideologically problematic organisations are capable of positive activities, just think what genuinely progressive movements could achieve, given the opportunity.

Mainstream discourse on the housing issue in Aotearoa focuses almost exclusively on the model of a single nuclear family in a house. However, communally owned housing and living is not the completely alien concept this one-sided view would make you believe. Maori settlements and marae have long provided an obvious counter example. To be honest not everyone is willing to live that way for an extended length of time, especially with families. Another model is provided by Pacific Island communities in countries like Tokelau and Samoa. In the Pacific Islands, homes are traditionally built by communities then allocated to families on the basis of size and need. Ownership is retained by the community as a whole. This addresses the issue of housing in a way that fits well with Anarchist principles and given the demographics of areas such as South Auckland, it’s not a pie-in-the sky possibility. Encouraging more than owner-occupier or corporate forms of ownership and recognising communal ownership of land and resources would help address social alienation caused to families used to village or other communal types of living, such as Pacific Islanders and Somalis. It would also open up the housing market to those who have difficulty accessing housing, including working class pakeha and Maori who don’t belong to tribal based corporate entities.

There is something deeply wrong when living on a yacht makes more sense than living on land and houses remain unoccupied while people live in cars and garages or are homeless. When a system is this flawed the exploration of radical alternatives is called for, a few half-hearted changes in taxation just isn’t the answer.