A "hikoi for homes" in Auckland today may be the forerunner of social unrest on a greater scale unless this country can do something to bring the cost of housing back within reach of average wage earners.
It is a pity that the march is starting in Glen Innes to show its opposition to a splendid redevelopment of a state housing area to put many more units on the large sections there. And many of the marchers' stated aims are misdirected.
A halt to the sell-off of state and council housing will do nothing for home seekers if it prevents schemes like the Tamaki redevelopment and freezes the stock of state houses for existing tenants.
Likewise their call for a five-year rent freeze for all rental housing. Blunt regulations such as that usually do more harm than good.
Maintenance would suffer, fewer houses would be made available. And to spend $1 billion a year building "more public and other not-for-profit housing" would not be a lasting solution.
But the march organisers are doing the country a service bringing to light the largely unseen conditions of life for those shut out of the market by high house prices and rising rents. This week we reported that another family applies for special housing assistance in Auckland every three days.
A Salvation Army survey has found 32 households, including 20 children, living in cars or other vehicles.
There were 50 households in cars on the social housing waiting list during the winter.
Many more, especially single women with children, are known to be squeezing in with other family members or renting a room where they can. They are harder to survey than those in Auckland emergency shelters (16 households at last count), camping grounds (14) or the 30, including 13 children, who say they are sleeping "outside".
These are the people worst off in the housing crisis but there are untold thousands of young couples who can see no way of affording a home of their own at prices prevailing now, especially with rents on the rise. Rents have been relatively stable through a period of rising house prices, reflecting the rise in supply of rental property as more houses were bought as investments rather than homes for buyers.
The Herald's new data website, Insight, has found average weekly rents in Auckland now exceed $500, compared with less than $500 a year ago. Rising rents may be a sign of slackening demand for investment houses, a welcome consequence possibly of the tax and mortgage lending measures that have taken effect over the past seven weeks.
Capital gains tax now applies to all non-owner-occupied houses bought since October 1 if they are sold within two years of purchase, and mortgages for investment homes in Auckland require a 30 per cent deposit under the Reserve Bank's loan-to-value ratio introduced on November 1.
All advanced countries are grappling with the social and economic consequences of house price inflation resulting from the large injections of cash at low interest rates that cushioned the last recession.
"Quantitative easing" is proving easier to start than to finish. The recovery remains so weak that global liquidity will have to be loose for another year. Meanwhile, society is dividing into those who can afford a house and those who may be renting for life.
If the measures of the past two months prove unable to stop this trend, more must be devised. That should be the message of the march today.