Property ownership seems to be a key part of the Kiwi dream, that dream for a weatherboard house on a quarter acre.
New Zealanders love to invest in property, to buy their forever home and are famous for a ‘Do It Yourself’ approach to renovating older properties that makes the wish for home ownership more realistic to many. But the question is, in our ‘rockstar economy’, should every New Zealander be able to afford a home?
Student loan rates have been skyrocketing, from 7.5 billion collectively in 2004 to 14.8 billion in 2015. The average rate of student debt is now more than $28,000NZD per student. This millstone around the neck can be a major hindrance to ever making the leap into property ownership. Beyond that, very high property prices in job-rich markets like Auckland and Wellington can completely price out many couples looking to buy a home.
It can seem more difficult than ever to break into the New Zealand property market as a young person, and many are resigned to simply renting for life. Yet, property ownership comes with so many benefits; security, freedom over your own land and house, and the investment which comes in having an asset that will increase in value. And property ownership has a positive effect on the economy at large, too. It encourages people to save, it creates wealth and encourages more engagement with the community homeowners to live in. Housing, and the value of housing can also emerge relatively unscathed from some economic crises, providing stimulation for the economy during the economic recovery. In America, studies have shown that the children of homeowners do better in school, because of the permanence that comes with moving an average of once every nine years instead of once every two.
If there are such clear social benefits to encouraging property ownership, both those looking to participate in the market and the government have a role to play in increasing rates of home ownership. New Zealanders are not necessarily entitled to a home, especially not in places like Auckland, and those on minimum or low wages will always find it difficult to buy a home. But it is good for us, as a country and a community, to help people get into the property market.
Maybe that home will be an apartment, as seems increasingly fitting for the crowded urban environment of Auckland. It may not have the Kiwiana appeal of the quarter acre, but it is a practical and central option that can cut down on the hours spent in Auckland traffic, and slow down the sprawl of Auckland’s expansion, helping to create a more compact city. Demand in many urban centers are far outstripping supply, and it is vital more houses and complexes be built, especially aimed at lower income families.
More than just an increase in high-density living, the Kiwi dream needs stimulation and healthy economies in more rural areas, and urban areas outside of Auckland. This will be what encourages those young professionals and workers to look for accommodation outside of the economic capital. These houses also tend to be more reasonably priced, and many towns are faster growing than Auckland itself; according to the New Zealand Herald, places like Tauranga and Whakatane offer more than just sun and beaches. They are in the middle of a population boom, with houses on the outskirts remaining decidedly in the affordable range.
If the Kiwi Dream, and the security it provides, is something we truly value, then something needs to change.
John Kenel, Assured