The Housing War Is A Class War
This article is taken from a longer version published in The Pantograph Punch. Ella Grace and Vanessa argue the housing crisis is one that divides society along class and race lines, not generational lines.
As it stands, the Auckland Unitary Plan debate appears to have two main protagonists – on one hand, the NIMBY homeowners who live in wealthy neighbourhoods and do not want to ruin the “character” of their middle-class sanctuaries; on the other, young people shut out of the housing market and forced to pay rent to parasitic landlords. The debate is presented as one between baby-boomers and millenials - the New Zealand Experiment of (neo)liberal reforms that began in the 1980s eventually facilitated massive expansion of private wealth in land ownership and a relentless rise in renting costs, in turn impacting the ability for our generation to access the housing market. Different news outlets take different sides over this framing - most prominently The Spinoff, who recently proclaimed 'the War for Auckland'. Pitched between the twenty-somethings of Generation Zero and the North Shore landowners of Auckland 2040, the Spinoff has placed itself squarely on the side of ‘youth.’
What this form of the debate silences, however, are the voices of those most impacted by the housing crisis. Worse, the way many commentators keep talking about this further reinforces the economic logic at the root of the problem it wants to solve: try telling the elderly kuia being evicted from their state homes in Glen Innes, a place architect and artist John Haydn called a war zone, or the grandparents and great-grandparents having their pensioner flats privatised, that this is a generational debate. The difference between those who can and cannot buy a house in Auckland is not generational and never has been. It is based on systems of privilege that are rooted in historical trends.
Undoubtedly, policy decisions made over the past 40 years have compromised the opportunities of younger generations, denied access to the state services and secure, well-remunerated employment once on offer while property investment was made ever more lucrative. But the erosion of this safety net under neo-liberalism is precisely what makes this a class issue and not a generational one. It is not the age of the politicians, but their class allegiances and interests that have produced unprecedented inequality in New Zealand. Houses should be affordable. But this generational disparity in opportunities does not, and will never, compare to the disparities of class, which are entrenched in racism and ongoing colonisation. The war for the right to housing isn’t new, it’s just new for a middle class who bought land as a rite of passage until recently.
The voices being completely excluded from this debate explicitly by the architects of the Unitary Plan (and implicitly, by the way the Plan is being covered) are the unemployed and working class, who often do not have the resources to lobby council and businesses to provide a counter-discourse to the debate. Even despite the lack of access and exposure, these groups have long been actively resisting the enclosure and destruction of their communities.