How the New Zealand Housing Crisis Became a Human Rights Investigation

By Kaden Pradhan

London, United Kingdom

New Zealand’s housing crisis is the largest challenge to Jacinda Arden’s government (Photo Credit: NZ Herald)

New Zealand’s deepening housing crisis has provoked an inquiry from the nation’s Human Rights Commission, as leading officials cite the “punishing impact” of the country’s rapidly increasing house prices on marginalized communities and neighborhoods, with some citizens and families even having been forced into emergency accommodation such as motels.


“Successive governments have failed New Zealanders,” declared Paul Hunt, chief of the Commission. “For generations, they have promised to create the conditions to enable everyone to live in a decent home, but this has not happened.”


Fiscal policies introduced by Prime Minister Jacinda Arden earlier in the year have had no significant effect on the runaway housing market, with investors taking advantage of the extremely low interest rates and easier access to capital brought in by the government as part of an economic stimulus strategy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.


According to a report by RealEstate.co.nz, the nation’s properties have the highest average asking price in recorded history, as well as the fewest number of houses for sale in fourteen years. Auckland has been indicated as one of the least affordable housing markets globally, and in the past year alone, house prices have rocketed by nearly 30%, the highest figure of all the O.E.C.D. countries.


“The housing crisis in Aotearoa is also a human rights crisis encompassing homeownership, market renting, state housing and homelessness,” added Hunt, using the traditional Maori name for New Zealand. “For many people, especially young people, the goal of an affordable, healthy, accessible home has actually become more remote. These serial governments bear a heavy responsibility for this massive human rights failure, which is blighting lives and communities.”


The crisis has been building over the past decade, but the situation deteriorated especially rapidly during the pandemic, blocking first-time buyers and lower income workers from stepping onto the property ladder. Past governments have maintained policies of nontaxable capital gains, which has created a so-called ‘investor market’ oriented against owner-occupiers.


The United Nations produced a report in June on the crisis, led by the former Special Rapporteur on housing, Leilani Farha. She stated that the nation’s governments, both past and present, failed to ensure that the housing market met the needs of the populace, calling the crisis “a dark shadow that hangs over the country”. The Human Rights Commission has begun an investigation into the causes of the crisis and how it might be remediated.


Hunt concluded: “The right to a decent home, although binding on New Zealand in international law, is almost invisible and unknown in Aotearoa.”