Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: Hard times for renters

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I was resigned to never scraping together the deposit for my own home. Photo / Doug Sherring
I was resigned to never scraping together the deposit for my own home. Photo / Doug Sherring

I never thought I'd own my own house.

Life as a single mother meant there simply wasn't the money at the end of the month to put aside into a savings account.

I was resigned to never scraping together the deposit for my own home - and that was at a time when house prices were only sky high. They hadn't reached the stratospheric heights of today.

My rental accommodation varied - when I was earning good money, doing television, we had lovely old cottages with backyards; when I was working as a waitress, it was a couple of rooms in a converted, old two-storey house that had been divided into apartments. Daughter Kate always had her own room, even if I had to have a makeshift bedroom, and the houses were always sunny.

All of my landlords were fair - the only ass was a property manager who told me my rent cheque had bounced. After spending an hour or so at the bank, going through statements, I rang him to say that all of my cheques had cleared. "Oh, right," he said. "I just assumed it was you who had defaulted because you're the only solo mother on my books.

Must be someone else." No apology for assumptions made or time wasted. Idiot.

But even though things weren't so bad when I was renting, you were always conscious of the fact that this was not our home. If the landlord decided there was something better they could be doing with the house, you were out and the horror of house-hunting began again.

It says much about how property prices have soared that 15 years ago a single mother on a low-to-moderate income could afford to rent a two-bedroom cottage in Ponsonby. Eventually, I met my Irishman and we moved from his brick-and-tile flat in Christchurch into a run-down cottage in Grey Lynn, and an impossible dream became a reality. Thank heavens it was before the madness of the property boom, otherwise I don't know how we would have ever afforded a home - even on two good salaries.

There were reports this week that demand for rental housing in the inner city means landlords are able to charge 20 per cent more than they were last year, and that the competition for available properties is at an all-time high. The leaky homes debacle has exacerbated the problem.

Other areas are also under strain. The small towns around Christchurch have seen landlords selling up as desperate refugees from Christchurch make silly offers on houses they wouldn't even have glanced at until the earthquake hit and created a huge demand and a diminished supply.

There's a direct correlation between damp, overcrowded houses and childhood diseases - the sort of illnesses that require expensive, lengthy healthcare.

Many studies show home ownership gives people a stake in their community. Children don't fall between the cracks when they attend the same school and people take pride in their homes and, accordingly, respect others.

It seems madness that the Government doesn't see that building more houses has many advantages. Increased supply would bring down prices, thus giving people on lower incomes the opportunity to buy their own homes. There would also need to be more tradespeople if more homes were built, and that would provide employment opportunities for those young people whose futures John Key has said he is so concerned about.

If the Government is against getting involved in providing houses for low-income families, then make it easier for private developers to do it by rezoning land and opening up areas for subdivisions.

Letting the market prevail when unforeseeable situations, like the Canterbury quakes and the leaky homes fiasco, have artificially diminished supply is wrong. It will only make the division between those who have and those who have not more extreme.

- Herald on Sunday

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