Greens co-leader Marama Davidson pushes for rent controls to address homelessness crisis she's responsible for solving

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson is pushing for rent controls to address homelessness, the crisis she's responsible for solving in Government. 

The Greens have launched a new online tool to show Kiwis just how bad renting is. The median rent price increased 6 percent in the year to March, data from Trade Me shows, and the figure - $540 a week - is the highest on record. 

"It's a tool for people to check how much rent they're paying in the context of their income," Davidson told Newshub. "We want to get an accurate picture of what the real situation is for people.

"We know that well over 40 percent of people are paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent and we still have well over 20 percent of people paying over 40 percent of their income on rent. This actually makes it really hard to live a decent life."

Davidson has some power to make change. Despite Labour winning a majority in the election, the Greens accepted a 'cooperation agreement' offer, in which Davidson and co-leader James Shaw were given Government portfolios.

As Associate Housing Minister with a focus on homelessness, Davidson accepts that high rent prices are contributing to the crisis for which she is responsible for solving.

"In my role as Associate Minister in the Homelessness portfolio, I am primarily responsible for overseeing the Homelessness Action Plan," she told Newshub. 

"But - and now I switch to my co-leader hat - when I'm out there talking with providers and community organisations who are trying to do the work for getting families into homes, they constantly tell me the same thing everywhere: they will find people homes but the rent is too high and so often they see people end up being evicted, end up being behind on their rent, so it's a cycle because the rents are too high.

"Yes, rents can lead to homelessness and they have been, and we need to prevent further homelessness by directly addressing rent and that's what we're doing as Greens and what I'm doing as co-leader." 

Green Party co-leader and Associate Housing Minister responsible for homelessness, Marama Davidson.
Green Party co-leader and Associate Housing Minister responsible for homelessness, Marama Davidson. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

The Government announced a string of new housing policies in March to try and bring down house prices. Official documents showed the policies could see rents increase, so the Government considered capping rents to stop landlords passing on the cost.

But the Government didn't proceed with the proposal, much to the Greens' disappointment. The Greens say ministers must not rule out rent controls before the public has had a chance to debate the matter. 

As for what progress she's making getting her ideas across the line in Government, Davidson said she's "not able to sort of talk publicly about the discussions we have as ministers".

"But we are making a clear stand as the Green Party, and as co-leader I'm highlighting that this is an area of solution that has not been addressed by any political party."

Davidson said she gets along with her Labour Party ministerial colleagues.

"I've really enjoyed working with the Labour Māori housing ministers. We've actually got a really good working relationship. And I say this genuinely; we are genuinely all working together as a team of ministers to go as fast as we can to resolve the crisis we are all in."

But there are differences of opinion.

"I mean, I'm not the Labour Party, I'm the Green Party, so we obviously have some policy differences that we all make very public to people, there's no secret there.

"As the Green Party, we're always going to want to push further and faster and that's not a conflict, it's simply that the way that I'm able to work is both have some influence in the hallways of power while also maintaining our political independence as Green Party co-leader so that people can see it is the Greens who will go further and faster."

Davidson is no stranger to renting.

"It's on public record that I still rent a home and haven't yet been able to buy my own home. But, I am not one of the people who needs to be prioritised for rent regulation," she says. "Whatever the solutions are, they would need to prioritise people on lower incomes."

Along with their new 'fair rent' tool, the Greens have published an online discussion document outlining various proposals for bringing down rent prices.

Among the proposals are:

  • Requiring landlords to tell potential new tenants how much rent they charged the previous tenants in a property.
  • Tenants and landlords could agree how future rent increases will be decided when they first sign a tenancy agreement. The Greens point out that people who are desperate may end up being pushed into an unfair deal.
  • The Government or a new independent agency could determine what a reasonable rent increase will be in different parts of the country each year. Rents could go up if the landlord can show substantial property improvements.
  • The Government or a new independent agency could assess what is a reasonable rent for particular types of properties, looking at things like a home's size, design, features, and location.
  • The Government could freeze rents for a period, like it did during the COVID-19 lockdown last year. The Greens say a quick freeze could be applied while long-term solutions are put in place.
  • The Government could increase the Accommodation Supplement it pays to people on low incomes to help cover housing costs. Currently, the most a single person can get is $165 a week, while families with children can get $305 a week. 

"It may not be one particular solution on its own. We said in the document, that simply increasing accommodation supplement on its own may just end up increasing rents actually, and that extra income will just go back to landlords," Davidson says.

"This is simply not good enough and we need to see some direct change to make rents reasonable."