Walking up Queen Street in Auckland recently I passed a man sitting with his belongings outside the Louis Vuitton store. Framed in the window above the man’s head was a handbag with Vincent Van Gogh’s art work all over it. It struck me that Vincent Van Gogh would likely have more in common with the man sitting on the street than he would with someone who could afford to buy a designer handbag.
The homeless people on Queen Street are the visible homeless, there are many more, some sleep in cars and some live in overcrowded accommodation.
We should be able to house our people, however with record immigration, and house prices in Auckland being above or close to 10 times the median annual household income it’s not hard to see why we have people living on the streets and in cars. Affordable housing is widely accepted to be 3-4 times the median annual household income so it’s no surprise that a rise in homelessness is being reported around the country. (See: House price-to-income multiple)
High house prices mean high rental costs which in turn puts pressure on social housing supply. This is evident in the statistics that show the nationwide waiting list for social housing grew by 40% in the last year and more than 5000 households were waiting to be housed in July 2017. (See: Queue for social houses passes 5000 …)
In 2015 the government budgeted $2 million a year for social housing grants, a recent Social Housing Quarterly Report showed $1 million a week! is spent on emergency housing grants. With so much expertise and information at their fingertips, how did the government underestimate the need by so much? It’s widely reported that Auckland doesn’t have enough houses to deal with an increasing population, and surely the current spend on emergency housing would have been better invested by building permanent housing much earlier.
Homelessness and mental health issues are often raised in tandem, and this is something that upsets me the most. How on earth is anyone supposed to get well when they don’t even have a roof over their head?
Why can’t we build all types of housing, including social housing quicker? Why can’t we stop foreign ownership of property? Stopping foreign ownership should help reduce demand for property and consequently prices, making it more affordable to own, and rent property, especially in Auckland.
It was mentioned on a recent episode of Q&A that New Zealand is seen by overseas investors as an attractive place to invest in property because unlike many countries we don’t have capital gains tax or stamp duty. Why don’t people in power value our precious resources like water and housing more? I don’t think we should give water away, or allow our houses to get into the hands of foreign investors who want to make money at the expense of the wellbeing of our people. Homes for people, not houses for speculators I say.
I’ve got plenty of questions and a few opinions, but I’m finally getting there – paying it forward in Auckland (and how you can too). As one person I don’t feel like I can change much, but one thing I can do is go to Merge Café at 453 Karangahape Road and buy a $20 meal and drink card which gives a person who needs it a meal and hot drink. I left the card with the good people at Merge who will offer the meals and drinks to those who come through their doors. (You can also give the card to someone on the street, unfortunately you probably won’t have to walk far from the café to find someone in need).
Call in to Merge for a cup of coffee and pay it forward if you’d like to, and are able, we may not all be able to build houses, but providing food and fostering a sense of community are important too.