‘The housing crisis in Aotearoa New Zealand is a human rights crisis– Part 3 of The Housing Series

Aotearoa New Zealand has come under scrutiny from a human rights perspective for how well it houses its citizens, says Closing the Gap. The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing to New Zealand, Leilani Farha, recently presented these preliminary observations. and recommendations.
  1. She notes that while it is widely recognized there was a housing crisis and it was being experienced most acutely by particular groups: What is less recognized is that the housing crisis in Aotearoa New Zealand is, in fact, a human rights crisis.
  2. 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.
  3. “While New Zealand has ratified various international human rights treaties obliging all bodies exercising government authority to respect, protect and fulfil the right to adequate housing, there is insufficient expression of this right in law, in related policy and programmes, and in their implementation.
  4. These conditions would never have arisen to this extent had housing been fully understood, recognized and implemented by Governments as a human right and a social good rather than as an asset for wealth accumulation and growth over the last decades.”
  5. She notes that particularly since the global financial crisis in the late 2000s , home ownership has translated in housing having lost its function as a place to live and instead it has become a speculative assess.
  6. “Housing finance has morphed into consumer finance. Low interest rates, coupled with an under-developed rental housing system with weak tenant protections, have allowed housing speculation to continue in a relatively unbridled fashion.”
  7. ‘While New Zealand has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, there are currently no legislated protections for economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to adequate housing, which are comparable to the protections of civil and political rights – robustly protected by the Bill of Rights Act.
  8. ‘I therefore echo the concern expressed by the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations that “economic, social and cultural rights do not enjoy equal status with civil and political rights”.
  9. ‘I recommend that the right to adequate housing be enshrined in legislation to render it justiciable in domestic courts and enable victims to have access to effective administrative or non-judicial remedies, as well as judicial remedies where necessary.’
Among recommendations Farha made to the Government
  • Implementing a Capital Gains Tax to disrupt the current speculative system and address the financialization of housing.
  • Ensuring that housing and social benefits are sufficient to actually cover the cost of living for low income households and reduce energy poverty so that they may be ensured a life of dignity.
  • The impact of COVID-19 has highlighted these anomalies and gaps in response.
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