Maori Party fighting housing crisis 'on all fronts'

Te Ururoa Flavell (Simon Wong/Newshub.)
Te Ururoa Flavell (Simon Wong/Newshub.)

The Maori Party says it is struggling to get Government ministers to act on the housing affordability crisis enveloping much of the North Island.

Homelessness is rising, prices and rents are skyrocketing, and figures released by Statistics NZ on Thursday show home ownership rates are plummeting.

Maori and Pacific Islanders have been hit the hardest, and Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell says his party is "fighting it on all fronts".

"It's a long-term game, it's something that we want to plan for a lot better. But there are certain conditions you cannot change, and that's the high cost of houses, not enough houses being available for people to move in to, a change of rules, access to finance, access to land."

The governing National Party, which has consistently denied there is a crisis, says the fix for housing affordability is freeing up land so more houses can be built. While it might help in the long run, it doesn't help people struggling to buy a home right now -- or simply put a roof over their heads.

"We've sort of turned a [blind] eye to it, believing that it can't happen in Aotearoa. But the mere fact a marae has just recently opened its doors to house people has put it fairly and squarely on the map."

He wants more done now to help those in need.

"I think we're making progress, but obviously not enough progress against the background of those who aren't able to move into home ownership and those who are suffering from homelessness."

Labour, which wants to enact a Government-led building programme to increase the housing supply, is blaming speculators for pricing everyone else out of the market.

Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says Otara in south Auckland is a perfect example.

"Speculators were responsible for buying up 80 percent of properties over the last 12 months. Now at the same time, the home ownership rates in Otara fell by four times the national average."

Statistics NZ warned that as many New Zealanders use their homes to pass on wealth, plummeting home ownership rates could entrench inequality down the generations -- dividing New Zealand society between owners and renters.

Mr Twyford says this will also result in fewer small businesses and a weaker economy.

"Home ownership has always been one of the ways that people have started small businesses in this country. What's happening now is that about half the population who are now living in rental accommodation are denied that possibility."

Housing Minister Nick Smith says the present Government has, in its HomeStart programme, implemented "the most generous support that Government has provided for more than a generation".

Dr Smith told Radio New Zealand on Thursday low interest rates have kept housing affordable in most areas, but admits it "is a real problem" in areas like Auckland, encouraging investors to put money into property instead of other ventures.