During our training weekend for the upcoming OECD Forum, the other youth delegates and I had the opportunity to listen to several guest speakers, who touched on topics ranging from Aotearoa’s role in the OECD, to education equity, to the importance of grassroots activism on climate change. However, a common theme throughout these talks was the wellbeing of others and how we can implement change that will benefit society at large.
Therefore, I was slightly surprised when I was most captivated by the talk that economist, Shamubeel Eaqub gave about the housing crisis. I only say ‘surprised’ due to my previous disinterest in/ignorance of all things economics related. However, Eaqub acknowledges that yes, while the housing crisis is obviously a financial issue, it is also intimately connected to Aotearoa’s lack of empathy for others and our attitude towards renting. Consequently, I thought I would use this platform to reformulate some of his key ideas so that we can bring this conversation more into the mainstream.
He began by arguing that inequality is not just about one’s income or their social capital but that at its most basic, it is about not understanding where other people are coming from. In tandem with this, is a complete disinterest in the lives of others, especially those that are worse off than us. Therefore, Eaqub encourages a revolution in the underlying philosophy of society, whereby we are more empathetic to others.
In doing so, he suggests that we need to change the way that New Zealander’s think about tax, as our current approach to it is generally very negative. A particular comment that stuck with me was that ‘tax is love’ as contrary to common perception, it is about pulling our resources together so that as society we are better off, especially those with fewer resources to contribute in the first place.
In terms of how this relates to the housing crisis, he reasoned that while inequality has always been a problem, it is now the subjugated who are the majority. Therefore, with houses costing more now than they ever have, only a small portion of society are able to afford a home. However, he argues that this is not just a financial issue, but also a social one as in Aotearoa we have a culture that says that home ownership is a fundamental right. Therefore, not being able to afford a home means that people begin to feel that they are missing out on the so-called ‘New Zealand Dream’, which then causes further social and psychological anxieties.
Eaqub says that inherent in this belief, is a stigma around renting. While many New Zealander’s are understandably concerned with the poor quality of rental properties, others simply think that renting is beneath them. Therefore, he believes that we need to take a leaf out of Europe’s book, where it is typically more common to rent than it is to own a home. This is partly because of their ‘Build to Rent’ initiative, which involves houses being built specifically for renting, but with more long-term tenants in mind. This results in better quality rental properties, a more open-minded approach to renting, and a more stable housing market.
While acknowledging some of the faults with this system, Eaqub believes that it is this sort of long-sightedness and consideration for future generations that will help Aotearoa’s current housing crisis, both financially and socially. As he pointedly concludes, while change is fast, it’s the slowest it ever will be. Therefore, Aotearoa needs to act now if we want to see effective change.