John Key was right. There isn't a housing crisis. But not in the way he tried to pitch us. There's a greed crisis. It's not a housing crisis.
Let's start naming things by their causes, not their symptoms. It's a landlord crisis. A private property crisis. People have made choices that caused these crises.
Last year the census revealed that there were just under 40,000 houses sitting empty in Auckland. Some of these were being renovated so they don't count towards the greed problem, but a number were being "land banked". Sitting there idly waiting for someone with enough money to pay for the rent or the ownership to come along. Until then that house is an unproductive waste of potential.
Nobody is really sure how many homeless people there are in New Zealand, but I reckon those 40,000 empty houses would comfortably house them. Fining people for deliberately leaving houses empty might be something to consider.
There is not the political will from anyone in a position of power to do this though. So we muddle on with a grab-bag of non-solutions that tinker round the edges of big social problems.
In Tauranga last year a council bylaw was passed that banned homeless people from sleeping or begging 5 metres from any hospitality or retail premise. It was enthusiastically praised by National leader Simon Bridges who said that Tauranga City Council had been "far, far too soft" on the issue and that "they should pass the bylaw and make sure it's implemented and enforce it".
It's a weird stance to take: that homeless people should not be allowed in public spaces. Especially since these are the only spaces they can be, given they can't afford a private space.
The Tauranga example is timely. The bylaw has been under review and a decision is due out this month whether to repeal it.
Simon's support of the bylaw is no surprise. It is a very popular bylaw and Simon has spent his whole time as National leader chasing popularity. It's everybody else's distaste for the desperately needy that confuses me.
About 90 percent of people who are reading this are far closer to becoming desperately poor than to becoming obscenely rich. They say you're only three missed pay cheques away from homelessness, and yet as a group we seem to side with the policies that benefit the rich far more than the poor.
There aren't many billionaires out there who support policies that benefit the needy, so why should we support billionaires? Jeff Bezos is my favourite plutocrat example. Bezos makes US$150,000 every minute. I say make and not earn because the bulk of Bezos' money is earned off the back of his workforce, a workforce he and his company work very hard to stop from unionising. What's good for the workers isn't good for Bezos. To put Bezos' level of obscene wealth in perspective, each time you spend a dollar, that's like Bezos spending $1.3 million.
This Government hasn't been great at looking after the neediest either. It got a group together to review New Zealand's welfare system. It even called them the Welfare Expert Advisory Group, so you'd assume it was a group made up of experts. Except when the group reported back, suddenly the Government wasn't so keen on their expertise anymore.
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The number of things implemented off the back of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group's report is not good. But that's because those recommendations contained things like "increasing main benefits by between 12% and 47%". Even though this might be the right thing to do, it isn't the most politically palatable thing to do. This Government has chosen expediency over decency. Where's the politics of kindness?
The Green Party's lip service to welfare reform has been lippier than any other party's. It made it a condition of its confidence and supply agreement with the Government that benefit sanctions get lifted. Sadly benefit sanctions have not been lifted. The coalition has not honoured that part of the agreement. Given the Green Party continues to support the coalition after such a central plank of 2017's election campaign was ignored shows a deficit of political will or courage.
We have a lot of struggles in New Zealand. Homelessness, people unable to buy houses, underemployment, children going hungry. But these are all symptoms and we are now naming crises by their cause. We have a politician crisis.