At the beginning of November I attended the New Zealand Labour Party national conference held in Auckland’s CBD. There were several highlights for me. Attending the free ranging housing talk between our housing spokesman Phil Twyford and Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman was certainly one. The second highlight was the conference attendees being bused to Mt Roskill to do some campaigning for Labour candidate Michael Wood.
There is a by-election in Mt Roskill because long serving MP Phil Goff has been elected Mayor of Auckland.
I was with a group of fellow out of townees -mainly from Canterbury. Our bus traveled approximately 15 kilometres through what looked like quite typical New Zealand suburbs. The end destination for my bus was the suburb of Lynfield.
Property values in Lynfield like the wider city have recently exceeded an average of $1 million. This was a fact that me and my colleagues struggled to comprehend. There were lots of head shaking, as our mental picture of the value of housing was being challenged. There was a lot of incredulous questions, in particular the question, ”are those houses really worth so much”?
Over the last 8 years, average house prices in Auckland have doubled. So the Lynfield properties we visited had made their owners $1/2 million. While for those Aucklanders who do not own property, the cost of gaining the benefits of home-ownership, to have a secure base to access the amenities of the city, such as -good schooling, being part of a large labour market and being a stable member of a community have become ever more difficult to attain.
It did not take long for me when door knocking in Lynfield to find real examples of people living precarious lives due to unaffordable housing.
One rental family in particular drove this home for me. The father opened the door, young children were in the background. He was in his early 40s, had been in New Zealand for about 20 years, having come originally from the Middle East. He had picked up kiwi mannerisms. He was fair minded -saying he wanted to investigate all candidates before deciding on who to vote for. He had the kiwi habit of being reticent and not wanting to complain. When asked what were the issues that concerned him -it was education for his children that was top of the list. It was only when prompted about whether he was renting and the potential difficulty of stable schooling if his landlord sold or asked them to leave did his story come out.
Stable schooling was very much a concern for him, but house prices had risen so high he had consciously decided with his wife not to consider buying for the next few years. He didn’t think this was right and that something had changed in New Zealand. His said he had considered returning to University and possibly retraining, so he could get a better paying job. That he might have to leave Auckland or even New Zealand, but he doesn’t want to leave as he loves it here.
This situation illustrates several points for me. How renting in New Zealand is a precarious and unstable way to live. How for many despite great hope and love for the country the kiwi dream is in danger of fading away.
Another thought was -what happens when major societal groups are left behind, like those in precarious housing and employment are in New Zealand? What happens when they are exposed to all the downsides of the economy but none of the up? When they feel unrepresented and they lose hope? I think a compelling argument can be made they become easy prey for revolutionary populists like Donald Trump.
Once the connection between the politicians and the voters -in the US case the working class -is lost. No amount of fundraising, polling and targeted campaigning will work. Their old voting base will not turn out for them and their opponents will win. Fortunately the New Zealand Labour party is putting a lot of effort into policies to address precarious housing and employment, as the experience from the US is that we cannot afford not to.
My final thought is that we should consider Bernie Sanders point;
We cannot be a party which on one hand says we’re in favor of working people, we’re in favor of the needs of young people but we don’t quite have the courage to take on Wall Street and the billionaire class. People do not believe that. The Democratic Party has got to decide which side it’s on.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders 11.11.2016 Facebook post