Brooke van Velden: Families can’t live in warm intentions from Jacinda Ardern’s government

OPINION:

Rental price increases are forcing people to make some hard and painful life decisions.

A woman told me this week that she’d recently separated from her husband. They’ll need to sell their nice home in a good suburb. Her son’s hoping to finish intermediate with his friends this year and continue on with them at the local high school but, unfortunately, it’s not a possibility. Rents in the area are too high, driving her and her son out of town. She worries what this change might mean for her son besides the separation.

Last week, I met an adoring father to a beautiful, bubbly 1-year-old girl. He’d love to give her a sibling to share a bond and grow with, but he and his wife have made the hard call to stop at one. Most of their weekly income goes on rent and they couldn’t afford to save any money for a house to provide stability for their little girl with a second child to feed and clothe.

Every rental price increase makes it harder for a person making a plan to leave an abusive or threatening relationship. Higher rents make it harder to get out safely with the kids and find an affordable long-term rental on one income.

New Zealanders shouldn’t be forced to choose between their safety, the wellbeing of their children, or children at all, just to put a roof over their heads. Sadly, that’s reality for more and more people.

Over the last two years the rental cost of a three-bedroom home has increased 40 per cent in Highbury, Palmerston North, 25 per cent in Fordlands, Rotorua, and 23 per cent in Cannon’s Creek North, Porirua.

This Government was elected to make housing affordable. Over three years later, the median house price has risen astronomically. Reports show housing in New Zealand is not only unaffordable by international standards and getting worse, but also the reason why: We are not building enough homes. This shortage and price inflation had to filter through to the rental market.

Nobody questions this Government’s warm intentions. I don’t doubt for a moment that Jacinda Ardern sincerely wants more families living in warm, dry affordable homes, and more stability for those who rent.

It’s good that our politics are kind and civilised, unlike some places. But we still have to be honest with each other when the results don’t come in. Kindness doesn’t help much when you’re homeless.

What the mother and father I mentioned above and those women and children escaping violence at the refuge really deserve is results. We have to ask ourselves why the Government’s policies haven’t improved the renters’ lot. Why they haven’t even stopped things getting worse.

Here’s a simple, practical example of why the Government’s policies haven’t helped: heat pumps. A new law requires the installation of larger heat pumps in many rentals.

Bigger sounds better and warmer except that larger heat pumps are more costly to run and, as a result, they’re less likely to be turned on to heat rooms. Especially when there’s just enough money coming in to pay rent and feed the kids.

That’s not to mention the initial cost, but if the landlord doesn’t install an oversized heat pump, they can’t rent it out. It’s the law. This is just one small example of how the Government, with the best will in the world, makes things worse. Ask any landlord and their eyes will sink as they list the costs the Government’s added recently.

None of this solves the root of the problem that’s obvious at any rental inspection: too many tenants chasing too few rental homes. In fact, as landlords leave the market (as any suburban lawyer or manager will confirm), the Government’s policies are actually making things worse.

We need an honest conversation about housing. If the Government really wants to end child poverty, end people living in cars, garages, and motels, and ensure more people have access to warm, dry homes, it needs to act. It needs to get to the root of the problem: too few homes. It needs to make it easier to build more.

That’s what this Government should care about.

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