Sometimes I envy people who have lived in the same town and the same house for a long, long time.
I get it. You build links, retain friends, you know all the shortcuts and all the best places to go.
You are connected.
As someone who has lived in 30 different houses in 11 different towns and cities, I actually couldn’t tell you where I come from anymore.
I support the Crusaders and Tasman Makos at rugby but Northern Districts when it comes to cricket.
For the last two years, I’ve lived in Taupo and worked in Tauranga.
So housing is always a subject of interest for me.
Out of those 30 houses I’ve lived in, I have only owned the last two. Five have been owned by my parents while growing up and the other 23 have been rentals or shared flats.
So, armed with a fair bit of experience, I can tell you that renting in New Zealand is not much fun.
Standing out from the rest
Finding a house to rent is an excruciating experience for most people.
Rather than being treated like a customer, you are more akin to a job applicant trying to outshine everyone else.
Property managers vary from pleasant to psychotic, in the same way personalities might be expected to emerge in a dystopian or post-apocalyptic, lawless world.
God help those who own a dog or even a cat. The mad scramble to hide the poor pooch should the landlord come knocking is reminiscent of some of the stories from Anne Frank’s diary.
Thankfully, I have usually had a good job and a middle-class appearance to fall back on. I have no criminal convictions and I’ve managed to leave most places in a better condition than I found it.
And that is usually not too difficult.
However, I’m glad I’m not renting in today’s market. Forget any three-strikes policy. For many people, it’s one strike and you are out of the rental market for good.
More and more
So the Government is frantically building thousands of houses to cater for those left out in the cold by a general lack of housing, contributing to the intense competition for limited rental stock.
By the end of last year, 22,409 families were on the waiting list for a state house, or a ‘public house’ as it is known now.
A public house used to have a far different meaning. And in fact one place I lived in for a few weeks – not long enough to make the list of 30 – was actually upstairs from a pub.
But, I digress, because while the government has ambitious plans to build 13,900 new pub’s between 2018 and 2024, that will barely meet the rise in demand.
Because in 2018, there were only about 9000 households on the waiting list for a house. By 2020, that had grown to 22,409.
A necessary inconvenience
Of course the Labour Government has always had a proud history of building state housing and the concept is certainly a nice one.
But, in a country where land is not exactly in short supply, it really shouldn’t be necessary.
The rental market has been fundamentally flawed in this country for many years. Not enough houses are built specifically as rentals.
Renters are too often treated as a necessary inconvenience, rather than a paying customer.
Renters pay the bills while the capital value makes the investment worthwhile.
We need to make houses easier to own and investment properties should be treated as businesses, not nest eggs.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bagging property investors. I’ve rented several properties off some seriously switched on property investors who have designed and built their houses specifically to cater for their customers.
The problem for renters in the current environment is that in many cases, they can be reasonably assured that their house is not actually their space to enjoy. It is not a rental property, it is a commodity to be traded at someone’s convenience.
With the sale of your home, goes your connection to the community.
You might even have to move towns to find a house.
That is the difference between the Kiwi rental experience and many other countries where renting is the norm and the market is more mature.