29 Sep 2023

Boos and strong language mark forum on housing

8:34 am on 29 September 2023
National's Chris Bishop, TOP's Ben Wylie-van Eerd, Labour's Ibrahim Omer and Greens Julie-Anne Genter.

National's Chris Bishop, TOP's Ben Wylie-van Eerd, Labour's Ibrahim Omer and Greens Julie-Anne Genter fronted at a housing forum hosted by Renters United and Generation Zero. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver / Samuel Rillstone / Facebook / Ben Wylie-van Eerd

Political candidates have heard the plight of renters at a forum in Wellington.

Renters United and Generation Zero questioned National, Labour, the Greens and The Opportunities Party on what it calls one of the biggest issues facing New Zealand.

Cam Jenkins from the Manawatu Tenants Union shared stories of the people he saw every day.

"They've been [silenced] by landlords. Haven't been able to have anywhere to live. Haven't been able to afford their groceries because their rent is more than 50 percent of the income they get. Without a tenant advocate these voices would never be heard, yet it is an ever-growing demand on services for us."

He said the advocacy group had been stripped of $18,600 in government funding.

National's housing spokesperson Chris Bishop, Green Party MP Julie-Anne Genter, Labour's Ibrahim Omer and The Opportunities Party candidate Ben Wylie-van Eerd all promised to continue funding tenant services.

Jenkins also called for a pledge that any new government would not return to landlords being able to evict tenants with no cause.

"And what saddens me is that I have had property managers threaten a pregnant woman this year, for when she gives birth to twins," he said.

Bishop was the only candidate not to make the promise - getting a round of boos from the crowd.

Mother-of-three Alicia Hall had previously rented a house that met the Healthy Home standards but was riddled with mould.

"In our previous rental, the true extent of the mould was uncovered when we moved out. To the shock and horror, underneath my bed was a huge mouldy patch, behind all our sets of drawers, on some clothing in wardrobes, behind our kids' bookshelves. There's enough to feel parental guilt over without playing the guessing game of how healthy a home is before moving in."

It was three to one on promising to increase enforcement of the Healthy Homes standards and look at setting up a rental warrant of fitness.

Bishop declined to answer, but said housing was a disaster and we should all be ashamed.

"It's not one government's problem, left or right, it's a 30-year disaster. We have to get it right, starting from tomorrow for the future of our kids - the 4000 kids who live in motels, the 500 families who live in cars, the 25,000 on the [social housing] waitlist, but most importantly the people that rent and pay far too much and scandalously high rent for shit housing."

There was strong language also from Genter, defending her party's rent-control policy.*

"There's no economic argument against a policy like this that makes sense. You'll hear a lot of hand waving and people 'oh no, rent control doesn't work'. Bullshit, that is bullshit. It absolutely does work and there is no evidence whatsoever that returning interest deductibility to landlords is going to reduce rents."

Omer said he understood the pain of renters because he was also a tenant.

He said Labour had banned letting fees and limited rent increase to once a year, as well as introducing the Healthy Home Standards.

"Most importantly, Labour got rid of no cause 90-day termination, which is draconian," Omer said.

Not only rents, but the overall housing shortage was top of the agenda for Wylie-van Eerd.

"If we were to have the same number of houses per person as does the average of the OECD, the average of the countries that we normally compare ourselves to, we would need to magic up 300,000 houses overnight. This is how far behind we have become," he said.

There was some good news for renters: all the party representatives agreed the country needed more housing to solve the decades-long problem.

*This story was updated on 2 October, 2023 to correct the word rent-freeze to rent-control.

  • Rapid growth in number of people looking for rentals in last six months
  • Auckland renter awarded $29k for enduring mouldy, bug-infested converted garage
  • National's property tax policies bring optimism for rental property owners
  • Affordable rental housing shrinking compared to population rise - research
  • Landlords benefiting from lack of housing supply - Renters United