Opinion: A nationwide lack of empathy with housing crisis


When a single pregnant mum is crying on national television because her asthmatic son can't breathe in his house, what is your reaction? 

An increase in house sales is forcing tenants out of long term accommodation and for many they have nowhere else to go.
Source: Seven Sharp

When you discover her two-bedroom flat, that is mouldy, leaking and broken was like that before she moved in out of desperation, what do you say?

Do you sympathise? Or do you find a way, any way you can, to blame her? 

The housing crisis this nation is currently facing means that people who can, are buying up properties. That's forcing out renters like solo mum, Roimata. 

The demand means higher rents in many places. Beneficiaries and low income earners who can't afford those rents are left homeless. They are put into motels by Work and Income, but are aware that that is not a permanent option. So what then?

I have spoken to five tenants of Rotorua landlords Sue and Stephen Bhana, and all of their stories are spookily similar.

All of the tenants were in emergency housing but had to get out, all posted that they were desperate for a house on Facebook and all were sent a private message on Facebook by Ms Bhana offering them a place to stay.

Many say they were shown different rooms to the ones they ended up living in. Many say they were told a different rent price than the $400-$450 a week they ended up having to pay, and anyway if you had kids would you rather have a roof over your head, or not?

There were existing problems with the units - mould, leaking, cockroaches and rubbish around the properties - problems ex-tenants will tell you go back years or even decades.

Stephen Bhana who, months ago signed two 14-day notices agreeing to fix problems at the Ranolf Street units knows that.

Why would an agent who's charging twice the market rate for a sub-standard flat agree to pay to repair damage that wasn't already there? Simple answer, they wouldn't. 

Why then have I seen Kiwis so eager to find excuses, to find the victims at fault?  A man I went to high school with in Rotorua suggested Roimata should not be pregnant, a sentiment that's ignorant at best, irrelevant and highly unhelpful. 

Then there were the landlords and property developers, that notoriously underprivileged bunch, pointing out their past issues with bad tenants and saying “not all landlords” more times than I could keep track of.

Local landlords who own units described as uninhabitable in Rotorua own several other properties.
Source: Seven Sharp

Let me ask you, when someone is run over by a car, as a fellow motorist, do you stand on the curb and yell at them that not all people are run over by cars. Or do you do something a bit more constructive with your time?

One of the key aggravating factors in New Zealand's housing crisis, I believe, is a nationwide lack of empathy.

The media runs stories like Roimata's, politicians see a wave of backlash from you, the voting public, placing blame solely on her and people in her situation.

If I was a Prime Minister wanting to save some cash, I would take that as a sign that New Zealanders just don't care. I mean, there's no housing crisis, remember? Or is there? That seems to depend on what day you ask the people in power. There is a housing crisis on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays after 4pm. 

Helping our nation's most vulnerable is something we should be priding ourselves on. We have some work to do.

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