Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire: Forget the house - move into a car

You can't move for the moaners! Can't afford a house this. Sleeping in my car that. Honestly. Illustration / Rod Emmerson
You can't move for the moaners! Can't afford a house this. Sleeping in my car that. Honestly. Illustration / Rod Emmerson

Housing. How hard is it really? Here's a house, here's a door. Windows: one, two, three, four. And the hatchback, if you have one. Simple stuff. And yet you can't move for the moaners! Can't afford a house this. Sleeping in my car that. Honestly.

Mike Hosking dropped a common-sense bomb on Seven Sharp the other night. Noting the Prime Minister's remarks about the number of reasonably priced houses on the market in Auckland, spaketh the Hosk: "To say it's unaffordable? Not true!" And: "A lot of this whole debate is driven by more emotion than by fact."

A week has now passed since those remarks, so it's been very puzzling indeed that people are still going on about housing. In the newspaper, on the radio, even on the television, the stories based on housing emotions just won't quit. But facts will prevail. As long as we don't let them get into the hands of the do-gooders and the scientists and the pointy-headed "experts", we'll be right.

The facts will set us free.

Let's begin with the claptrap about a "crisis". The critics bemoan "a severe home affordability and ownership crisis" which "has reached dangerous levels", and how we "need government leadership that is prepared to focus on the fundamental issues driving the crisis". Yes, it's true, those are John Key's words, from 2007 - I'll give you that. But that was in the deepest winter of Helengrad, when children dressed in sackcloth and the flag still had a Union Jack on it. Today, things are looking up. Not totally fixed, it's fair to say, but the official status of the housing situation has officially shifted from crisis to challenge, according to officials.

But don't take my word for it. Look at the facts. As Nick Smith has pointed out, Auckland housing is more affordable today than it was when National came to Government. Anyone who is laughing or weeping or otherwise rolling around on the floor at such a suggestion clearly has a bad case of emotions. Because the Massey University home affordability index tells not a lie. Mr Smith, the sharpest of three equally sharp points in the isosceles triumvirate of housing ministers, made this observation some months ago. Did he back down when it was pointed out that this was wholly dependent on historically low interest rates, which could hardly be guaranteed for the typical 20- to 30-year duration of a mortgage? He did not.

Did he stumble when directed to analysis showing New Zealand house prices had gone up 70 per cent in the last five years, and increased at the second fastest rate in the world last year? Nope. Did he waver when confronted with data showing Auckland has the fifth least affordable house prices in the world, with the average house costing about 10 times the average household income? Hell no. Did he hesitate when the people who run the actual Massey study said his claims were spurious? He did not, because he is a fact man, a man who uses the word "actually" a lot, and you can't have an opinion about an actual fact.

As if the quibbling about the housing affordability challenge weren't enough, the present and future Prime Ministers were this week subject to a blitzkrieg of emotion on the homelessness issue. John Key told media, apparently relaying information from Paula Bennett, that a "flying squad" of Ministry of Social Development staffers, together with the Salvation Army, had knocked on eight home-cars in Auckland, and their inhabitants had told them they didn't want their help thanks. The Sallies " always so serious, aren't they!? " said that hadn't happened at all, and it was damaging to the work they were doing to suggest they went around with ministry officials knocking on cars.

Again, a few facts might help us here:

1. Just because the MSD were actually sitting at desks and not out there with the Sallies, doesn't mean "flying squad" isn't a cool sounding name, evoking the drama and glamour of the 1970s British television series The Sweeney, and isn't that about being ambitious for New Zealand?

2. Is it not the case that those window washers at intersections are terrifying when they knock on your car, and are the Salvation Army tied up in this, and aren't you glad the Prime Minister is taking action?

3. Did the Prime Minister ever actually say that or was it a figment of your imagination?

4. The Salvation Army is not actually an army.

5. I'll tell you what is expensive: avocados.

6. I just googled Trade Me for the Auckland region, price range under $500,000, and returned a total 31,669 cars.

Meanwhile, Te Puea Marae in Mangere, which has taken in dozens of homeless families in recent weeks, is to get a funding top-up from the Government.

Te Puea's work is to be applauded by all, and if they keep at it one day they might be able to really contribute to society by branching out into the other burgeoning housing sector, motels. The state, obviously, cannot build houses, because that is not possible according to facts.

All but the icy-hearted will have been moved by the testimonies coming out of Te Puea. This week, for example, an 11-year-girl called TA told her story on radio and on the marae's Facebook page, where she described what it had been like living in a van with her family of eight.

"We've been living in our van for six months," she explained. "We had a house but we had to get out because the landlord made us. Then my dad lost his job ... I have to make six lunches, it's okay but sometimes there's barely anything. It's really very stressful for my parents. Since we've been here, all of us really want a house now. I don't have to make our lunches, the aunties make them at night. I like sleeping in a bed again, going to school every day, the Magics netball team and reading. I love reading. My wish is to have a room, to share with my little sister. A library next to my bed and to go to Waikato University and get a degree in anthropology."

Did that rouse your emotions at all? Course it did, and that's fine. Just don't let it get in the way of the facts.

- NZ Herald

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Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire is a Wellington bred, Auckland based journalist. He writes a weekly column for the NZ Herald, the NZ Listener's Internaut column, blogs for listener.co.nz, and contributes to the Guardian. From 2000 to 2010 he worked at the Guardian in London, and edited the 2012 book The Arab Spring: Rebellion, Revolution and a New World Order.

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