New Zealand’s housing crisis has become a “massive human rights failure”, the Human Rights Commission has said, as it launches a national inquiry into the problem.
“Successive governments have failed New Zealanders,” chief commissioner Paul Hunt said in a statement as he announced the inquiry. “New Zealand governments have signed up to a critically important human right: the right to a decent home. For generations, they have promised to create the conditions to enable everyone to live in a decent home, but this has not happened.”
New Zealand currently has the lowest number of houses available for sale in 14 years, combined with the highest average asking price on record, according to the July 2021 market report from Realestate.co.nz. There were just 12,684 homes up for sale across the country, down 34.8% from July 2020, the report found. The national average asking price hit an all-time high of $893,794. Auckland is now considered one of the world’s least affordable housing markets, with median house prices about 10 times median income.
“For many people, especially young people, the goal of an affordable, healthy, accessible home has actually become more remote,’’ Hunt said. ‘‘These serial governments bear a heavy responsibility for this massive human rights failure, which is blighting lives and communities.
“The right to a decent home, although binding on New Zealand in international law, is almost invisible and unknown in Aotearoa.”
New Zealand’s housing affordability crisis has been building for over a decade, and worsened significantly through the Covid-19 pandemic. Existing problems with affordability, high costs of materials and regulations constraining urban supply have been compounded by ultra-low interest rates, and a faster-than-expected economic recovery from the pandemic. Years of tax-free capital gains also helped to create an investor market that often prices out owner-occupiers.
Last year, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Leilani Farha, visited New Zealand and called the housing situation there “a human rights crisis” and “a dark shadow that hangs over the country”.
Farha said New Zealand was breaching its obligations under international human rights treaties, and concluded: “The housing conditions – high rates of homelessness, inaccessible housing stock, unaffordability and escalating rents, substandard conditions including overcrowding, a lack of security of tenure for tenants, and lack of social, affordable, and community housing for those in need, alongside an abundance of unaffordable family dwellings available for homeownership – are all inconsistent with the enjoyment of the right to housing”.
While New Zealand has signed up to treaties establishing the human right to housing, the special rapporteur and human rights commission have said it lacks a domestic legal framework establishing and protecting that right. The inquiry will establish a clearer definition of “decent housing” and then make recommendations along those lines.
In March, the New Zealand government announced a set of billion-dollar measures to try to increase supply and cool the market, but prices have yet to stabilise or fall. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern warned at the time that there was “no silver bullet”.