8 Dec 2020

Homeownership rates lowest in 70 years - report

5:39 pm on 8 December 2020

The rate of people who own their own home has hit its lowest point in 70 years.

Aerial view of New Zealand houses at Mount Maunganui, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand

Photo: 123RF

A new, 150-page report from Stats NZ titled Housing in Aotearoa: 2020 reveals a grim portrait of the housing crisis.

The report analyses housing information from multiple sources, including the 2018 Census, the 2020 quarterly employment survey, last year's economic survey and social and pilot housing surveys from 2018 and 2019.

Together, the data has been used to paint a picture of affordability, tenure, habitability, suitability and housing stock, and supply and demand.

It excludes non-private dwellings such as motels and hotels unless they are being used as long-term, private accommodation for people without shelter.

A senior analyst at Stats NZ Dr Rosemary Goodyear said almost one-in-three households now rent.

Dr Rosemary Goodyear.

Dr Rosemary Goodyear. Photo: Supplied

Homeownership hit its peak in the 1990s when 73.8 percent of people owned their own home.

The last time homeownership sat at such low levels was back in 1951 when it dropped to 61.5 percent.

Between 2013 and 2018, homeownership rates were more stable than the prior years. The researchers put that down first home buyers taking advantage of KiwiSaver and low-interest mortgage rates.

But while ownership rates have not quite hit the 1951 low, as of 2018, it has fallen across all ages down to 64.5 percent.

For people in their 20s and 30s, or for ethnic minorities, those rates are much lower.

Pacific people and Māori were less likely to own their own home and were more likely, alongside people with Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American or African ethnicity to live in public housing.

Every region in the country is affected, but urban centres and particularly Auckland, where there are major supply and demand issues, have seen the biggest falls.

The report also shows that those in homeownership tend to have higher incomes, more security of tenure and healthier, good quality homes.

In mid-2020 house sales prices were roughly 11.5 times higher than the median household income.

Tenants and rentals

The proportion of renting households that spent a third of its income on housing costs rose rapidly to over 40 percent in 2019 - up from 20 percent in 1988.

Thirty-two percent of households rent and, on average, spend a higher proportion of their income on housing costs compared with homeowners.

Rentals were more likely to be poor quality, and half of the renters with multiple housing quality problems rated their overall life-satisfaction as poor.

The report reveals that dampness and mould are more common in houses that aren't owner-occupied, rentals were less likely to have efficient heating and those houses were likely to be smaller and need of major repair.

Renters were more likely to move around frequently and the most common reason given for moving was because the landlord had ended the tenancy.

Unsurprisingly, people living in poor quality housing were more likely to have health and wellbeing problems.

Severe housing deprivation for Māori and Pacific people were close to four and six times the rate for Europeans.

Just under 1 percent of New Zealanders were without homes or living in housing that was considered so inadequate that they were considered severely housing deprived.

In 2018, most New Zealanders found their home and neighbourhood suitable for their needs, and unsurprisingly, those living in crowded housing reported being less satisfied.

Roughly one in nine people live in overcrowded housing, with the rates highest for Pacific peoples and most of these households were in Auckland and Gisborne.

A quarter of households in South Auckland suburbs of Māngere, Ōtāhuhu, Ōtara and Papatoetoe were crowded.

And while some families are squeezing into small homes, other people are building big houses and that's having an effect on our environment.

The report shows that construction is a dominant contributor to the country's consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions, representing 16 percent of total emissions for New Zealand in 2018.

The trend toward larger houses increases the carbon footprint of dwellings, with some stand-alone houses exceeding their allowable carbon budget by seven to 10 times.

Poorly insulated and inadequate housing stock is also contributing to higher energy use.

Call for 'urgent' intervention

The report's lead author Dr Rosemary Goodyear said 1.4 million people lived in a place they did not own.

That's a lot of people living in places that are not up to scratch, Goodyear said.

"If you think about renters, they are working in the current market, whereas homeowners could have bought their house yesterday or 20 years ago. They bought according to the market at the time and are less subject to the current conditions.

"But of course if you're a young person trying to get into a house, it is getting harder to raise a deposit."

Unsurprisingly, people living in poor quality housing were more likely to have health and wellbeing problems.

Māori and Pacific people are close to four and six times more likely than Pākehā to live in severe housing deprivation.

Independent Māori housing group Te Matapihi general manager Wayne Knox said the statistics were not surprising.

"It really just underscores that we need to take a rights-based approach to housing in order to make the value judgment that we need to as a society.

"We need urgent interventions and significant investment."

Knox said even if Māori housing projects like papakāinga were given double the funding, it still would not be enough to get Māori into secure housing.

In places like Auckland, the average house costs approximately 11.5 times the median household income.

The report said that was good news for existing homeowners and very bad news for anyone trying to get into the market.

Advocacy group Renters United spokesperson Robert Whitaker said rents had also gone up significantly in the wake of Covid-19.

"People thought there was going to be a downward correction in house prices and rents. In reality, rents are continuing to rise especially in Auckland, Wellington and other over-stretched markets. So if anything the picture is worse than these numbers.

Whitaker said renters were finding it harder and harder to find housing.

He has heard of rents going up by $50 to $100, forcing people to seek cheaper rentals, which may not exist.

Rent controls must be introduced, and security of tenure provisions and healthy homes policies extended, he said.

'Plenty to do' - housing minister

Minister for Housing Megan Woods said there was no quick fix.

"We are the first people to admit there is a lot more work to do in housing. This is an issue three decades in the making and there is a large programme of work under way but there is still plenty to do."

The government was considering all options to ease the problem, she said.

No caption

Megan Woods. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Green Party housing spokesperson Marama Davidson said not enough was being done.

"It's clear that people are finding it difficult to find an affordable place to live in, let alone buying their own home. We've said all along that all the tools need to be back on the table."

That includes a tax on assets, prioritising public housing and looking at not-for-profit rentals, she said.

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