The Press investigates Christchurch housing

The Press has done an investigation:

Is there a housing crisis in ? The Press examined statistics, attended open homes and spoke to experts and members of the public. Anna Turner reports.

Difficult, pressured, heated – yes. But a crisis where ordinary people can’t buy or rent homes and flats and many homeless are roaming the streets or living in cars – No.

Those are the findings of a two-week investigation by The Press.

Well done to The Press for doing a comprehensive investigation and going beyond the headlines.

High and average income earners were simply in a more competitive market, with people having to pay more and make an offer faster to get a house.

People on low incomes and benefits, as usual, were suffering the most, The Press inquiry found.

Residential property prices were up across the city since the earthquakes – but not outrageously – and the number of homes being sold was at a level similar to before the earthquakes.

Figures from the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) showed median house prices across Christchurch city have risen 8 per cent from January 2010 to January 2013. The median house price in January 2013 was $28,800 more than in January 2010.

Median house prices in Auckland rose 13 per cent in the past three years and the median price of an Auckland house sold in January 2013 was almost $60,000 more than it was in January 2010.

Auckland needs more land.

Timaru’s median house price rose 20.4 per cent from January 2010 to January 2013, while on the West Coast the median rose 10 per cent.

So an 8% increase in house prices over three years isn’t to bad.

The Press’ investigation found Christchurch’s rental market was closer to crisis than the property market.

Tenants Protection Agency manager Helen Gatonyi said many of the issues of substandard housing and poor access to housing were there before the earthquakes.

“There have always been these issues around housing and people who are living in houses of a poor condition. There have always been people living in garages and sleepouts. It’s not new,” she said.

“It’s just more visible now and people have to live in that kind of housing for longer than they did before the earthquakes because there are fewer options.”

Trade Me figures showed in Christchurch the average rent was up 26 per cent between the last quarters of 2012 and 2011.

And that is a lot. But the answer to that is to increase the number of houses available for renting. A rent freeze will do the opposite and make the problem worse in the long term.

Kennard Real Estate director Colin Lock said the rental figures in Christchurch were “misleading”.

“If you take a snapshot of all the figures across the whole rental market you’d think rents had gone through the roof.

“There’s two distinct markets – people renting fully-furnished properties at a higher price for a short time and people renting properties long-term for lower prices,” Lock said.

His own rentals had gone up an average of 11 per cent in the year to January 2013.

“My insurance has virtually doubled and my rates are up. The tenants aren’t being ripped off by the average landlord.”

That is a fair point on insurance and rates. The Council has just put rates up, and even in Wellington insurance premiums have doubled. Blaming the landlord for everything is unfair.

Mayor Bob Parker said he had never spoken to anybody, even those who were struggling, who hadn’t been able to find somewhere in the end.

The Press spoke to many people who said they had found a rental easily.

Kim Thompson said: “We moved after all the earthquakes, have an awesome house with fabulous landlords and great rent.”

Serra Kilduff said while it took her longer than usual to find a nice place, she and her partner managed it.

“It took a couple of months to find a place that wasn’t falling down, had insulation and heating, a garden, and wasn’t $600 a week. We have been very lucky in finally finding a great place with fantastic landlords.”

Christchurch’s social housing also failed to reflect a city-wide crisis. Housing New Zealand had recorded a marked decrease in the number of people on its waiting list for social housing units – dropping from 744 people in 2010 to 195 in 2013.

Again really good to see a story that both looks at the hard data, but also interviews a variety of people, not just those with the loudest voice.

That is not to say things are not very tough for many. Of course it is. But the term “crisis” has implications that do not match the reality.


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