The Government’s Maori Party allies say there was a WoF trial on 500 state houses last year but no results have been published. After the coroner’s report was released last week Prime Minister John Key conceded ‘it would be better for us to do more’. He hinted a limited WoF for rental houses was being considered.
But he said the Government was reluctant to introduce a ‘really rigid warrant of fitness’ to the private rental market for fear it would drive some landlords out of the business and reduce the rental homes available. Better crappy unhealthy mouldy draughty unheated rentals he is saying – than none.
What he seems to forget is that National’s vision of New Zealand as a ‘property-owning democracy’ is slowly fading. At the 2013 Census more than a third of households (35.2 per cent) did not own their own property; 453,135 households were renting.
Still – the lack of urgency from our parliamentarians about taming the rental market is hardly surprising. The housing profile of the politician class is very different from the nation at large. Last month’s register of MPs’ financial interests reveals the 121 MPs own nearly 300 properties between them – including 17 farms – five overseas boltholes – one castle (Metiria Turei) – a section at New Chums Beach (Coromandel MP Scott Simpson) and one hotel room (Tim Groser).
When the National Party borrowed the British Conservatives’ ‘property-owning democracy’ in the 1950s its aim was to turn as many voters as possible into homeowners. State house tenants were encouraged to buy their homes on sweetheart terms – 5 per cent deposit and 40-year mortgages at 3 per cent interest. Cheap state loans were offered to other home-buyers. By 1954 state loans were 34 per cent of all new home mortgages.
By 1991 74 per cent of households owned their own homes. Today it’s 65 per cent and on the way down.
In present-day New Zealand – instead of helping voters become property owners – MPs seem more skilled in amassing property portfolios for themselves. When you exclude the seven who own no property and the 34 who have just one each – the remaining 80 average more than three each. And that’s excluding shareholdings in assorted Maori blocks.
Among the haul are 60 investment or commercial properties – 17 lots of ‘bare land’ and more than 170 houses – flats – holiday homes – and ‘residential’.