A United Nations (UN) housing expert has dubbed New Zealand’s housing crisis a “human rights crisis”, and is calling on the Government to consider imposing a capital gains tax and rent freezes.
Concluding a 10-day long investigation into housing in New Zealand, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing, Leilani Farha, said: “It is not clear to me that the Government has pursued all options to address the housing crisis.
“It will take courage and new ideas, and it may require taking what are perceived as politically unpopular decisions, such as imposing a capital gains tax on the sale of residential properties, rent freezes, innovative uses of vacant homes, and tighter regulation of short-term rental platforms.”
Farha, whose visit was organised by the Government, said the Government had taken important steps to improve the country’s housing problems, but a more “ambitious, innovative and courageous” approach was needed to address the root causes.
“At the root of the crisis is a speculative housing market that has been supported by successive governments who have promoted home ownership as an investment, while until recently discontinuing the provision of social housing and providing inadequate tenant protection,” she said.
“When one in every hundred people is homeless, half of whom are under 25 years; when thousands are living in vehicles or housed in motels provided by the State; when houses are in such disrepair that they cause otherwise preventable illness and disease; and when middle income earners are finding it difficult to afford an accessible and decent home, the result is not just a housing crisis, it is a human rights crisis of significant proportions.
“These conditions indicate not only violations of the right to housing, but also of the right to health, security and life.”
Farha said the situation hit the most marginalized the hardest: Māori, Pacific peoples, people with disabilities, single parents, LGBTQI+, immigrants and others.
“A human rights crisis demands a human rights response. The Government must recognise in national law that housing is a fundamental human right requiring legal protection,” she said.
“In my view New Zealand must also adopt a comprehensive rights-based housing strategy that focuses on structural changes and that sets short- and long-term targets and establishes monitoring and accountability mechanisms.
“It is encouraging that the Waitangi Tribunal will undertake a housing inquiry. I would hope that the inquiry would be informed by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which provides a right to be actively involved in housing programmes affecting them and to administer those through their own institutions.”