What an extraordinary proposal from Auckland's mayor this week.
The talkback lines lit up on Friday after Phil Goff suggested that the answer to the housing crisis was to confiscate vacant homes and have them made available to the homeless.
According to the latest census, the number of vacant properties has risen from 6.6 per cent to 7.3 per cent of the city's private dwellings and while some of those are holiday homes or homes that are temporarily vacant, a proportion of them are ghost houses – properties deliberately left vacant by investors who want capital gains without the hassle of tenants. These are the ones in the mayor's sights.
Phil Goff says that the way it would work would be that electricity companies and Watercare would advise when a property had been without power or water for a defined time period, after which a letter would be sent to the property owner.
Hey, it would say, we noticed your house isn't being used - would you consider having it managed by Housing NZ?
To which the only reasonable response would be, Ah, no! The reason many people leave their homes untentanted is because they have been badly burned by previous occupiers – and left paying for damage that neither the Tenancy Tribunal nor Housing NZ can help them recover.
The new rules around rentals too mean that for some investors, it's simply not worth investing in the property when the land is what is valuable. However, the council says that vacant houses could be used for the Housing First programme which finds shelter for homeless people.
And they could also be an option for middle income workers - like nurses and teachers - struggling to find affordable accommodation.
Scott Figenshow, from Community Housing Aoetearoa, thinks it's a splendid idea. He commends Auckland council for the idea and thinks this shows that people are holding onto property, not because of their value as a family home, but as in instrument for creating wealth. He doesn't think that's what homes are meant to be and he's glad someone's tackling the issue.
However, Bernie Smith the CEO of Monte Cecelia Housing Trust smells a rat. He says it's an election year and people are looking for quick fixes. There are no quick fixes in housing, he says, and one of the reasons why working people are struggling to find homes is that the houses promised to low income families through Kiwibuild have failed to materialise.
Yup. Give that man's trust a donation immediately. He's hit the nail on the head. Why on earth should property owners have to fill the gap left by the failure of Kiwibuild?
Since when has the right to live in property owned by somebody else become a universal human right? I have every sympathy for people struggling to find homes to rent – let alone own.
I know we have a shortage of homes for people on middle incomes - people who are absolutely vital to the running of a city but surely it's not up to individuals to homes for them to live in.
Karl Marx writing in his Communist Manifesto had a point. You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. (Damn tooting we are!) But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. (This might have been true in 1848, when he wrote the Manifesto – today it's more like three-tenths, but point taken …) I think the difference is most people in this country are aspirational.
They might be doing it tough now, but they believe that through talent and skills and hard work, they can achieve what 62 per cent of New Zealand householders have done and that's own their own property. Sure there are ways that we can assist first home buyers and more of those initiatives need to be put in place – rent to own; increasing the housing stock; building homes specifically for first home buyers on middle incomes – oh, wait.
We tried that.
But the point is most Kiwis – most humans - want to earn what they own, not take it from those who already have it.
Which is why Karl Marx and Phil Goff's ideas are forever doomed to fail.