NZ Election 2020: Māori Party wants taxes on 'ghost' houses, capital gains from rentals

The Māori Party wants to slap owners of empty homes with taxes, curb immigration and tighten rules on foreigners buying New Zealand residential property.

Co-leader John Tamihere says the current situation, with nearly 20,000 households on the waiting list for a state home and a few thousand homeless put up in hotels to keep them off the streets during the pandemic, can't go on. 

"There's got to be answers to this," the former Labour Party MP told The AM Show on Thursday.

"One of the answers... is there's 38,000 vacant houses in Auckland. Now, thousands of those are owned by foreigners, right? There's been a clampdown on that, but the reality is they're ghost houses. They've got to be brought back into use for Kiwis in terms of housing stock, just rental. We're not going to be able to build ourselves out of this in the next five years."

The 2018 census found nearly 40,000 Auckland homes are vacant - some holiday homes, or just temporarily between occupiers. Others were just sitting empty, the owners deciding against the hassle of tenanting them out, relying on making bank from the capital gains.

The number of vacant homes rose from 6.6 percent in 2013 to 7.3 percent. 

The Māori Party says we should follow Canada and tax owners of ghost houses - and bring in a capital gains tax too of 2 percent on the sales of all non-owner-occupied homes.

"You're going into a casino where you can never lose if you're in residential housing in New Zealand," said Tamihere. "That's why a capital gains tax has to occur, other than on the family house. The reason is Governments are about sticks and carrots, and you've got to move money to the extent that all Kiwis can have a chance of home ownership. 

"With the immigration coming in outpricing us because we're a low-wage economy, low interest rates and the like, those caught earning under the average salary ain't going nowhere."

John Tamihere.
John Tamihere. Photo credit: The AM Show

That's another plank in the Māori Party's housing policy - get tough on immigration.

"Have to. It's a straight economic argument," Tamihere told host Duncan Garner. 

"We've got a supply problem, and the demand driver is run by immigration. Fifty thousand immigrants came in, in the last two years. I'm not anti-immigration, don't get me wrong - I think good finance and good skills are required - but Kiwis have to come first pretty soon. The only way you're going to fix the housing crisis is to curb immigration." 

In addition to cracking down on immigration and 'ghost' homes, Tamihere wants to allocate taxpayer funding to building more homes on Māori ancestral land. The total cost of the policy, dubbed 'Whānau Build', has been estimated at $600 million - the money pulled from the Government's COVID-19 recovery funds - and would see 2000 homes built in the first two years. 

The party also wants Māori to get first dibs on available social housing, to apply the Overseas Investment Act to all residential housing purchases and stop all land sales to foreigners, and task Kainga Ora with building more social housing.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has ruled out a capital gains tax as long as she's Prime Minister.