Immigration, Housing, and New Zealand

Immigration has been a hot, and sensitive subjects all over the world. From Europe and the the Refugee Crisis in the Middle East, to the US and the Border Wall with Mexico, to Japan considering letting more people in, Immigration often leans on racist, xenophobic behaviors that runs counter to most free societies.

This is not a new thing.

The US has complained about Immigrants coming to America ever since its inception, whether it was the Irish, or the Italians, or the Chinese or Indians, the US has long held anti-immigration stances within its populace. And with the exception of WWII, when millions of Europeans left the continent and countries around the world took them in, today’s landscape is a little more barren and a bit more heartless. Nonetheless, there are over 244 million migrants in the world, or about 3% of the worlds population.

And I am one of them.

The reason why I bring this up is that currently in New Zealand, there is a push to restrict the buying of land and property only to those who are Permanent Residents or Citizens.  The push comes as the Auckland region faces unaffordable housing due to a variety of factors, including property speculation and people buying investment properties without living in them. A lot of people place the blame on *foreign* investors who “don’t even live in the country buying property.”

I personally believe that “foreign” is a term to blur the lines of racial bias.

In 2015, when speaking about the housing Crisis, the Labour party decided to list the names of people who bought houses over a period of time, to highlight how many Chinese names came up in the list. It was seen as racist and incendiary, even after Labour Leader Andrew Little claimed it wasn’t about the Chinese, it is about non-residents buying land. Never mind that 15% of Auckland’s population are Asian and residents of New Zealand, many of those names are second and third generation Kiwis and just because your last name is “Lee” doesn’t mean you are asian. When people discuss “foreign” ownership, it is almost completely centers around asians, especially here.

In the last few days, this petition keeps coming up and both my Husband and I have engaged in discussions on it. Even after pointing out that I am not yet a Permanent Resident (hopefully in a few months!) and that this law would have affected me if it was in place when we bought our place last year.  Even though I am someone who wants to be apart of the culture of New Zealand, people are undeterred. First, we get the “Oh but you are different”, and the allusions that I should be excluded from their accusations about foreigners. When I point out that I am no different than a Chinese immigrant according to their goals, they still try to explain away me before getting back to the argument.

I find that I am a thorn in the side of many who make this argument because I am a white, english-speaking male who can blend into New Zealand relatively easy.

There are a lot of ways you can take a look at the housing situation in New Zealand. Firstly, the property market in Auckland is actually cooling down right now. Also, with rising interest rates, there is less interest in investing *in general* and as a result, it is cooling things down. Now the combination of a slowing market and rising interest rates means that even fewer people are going to be able to get a home (which is slightly ironic if you think about it). Further, we still have a shortage of 40,000 homes in the region, so as people immigrate here, or stay here because the world is going crazy, it is going to compound the situation.

My approach would be to look into Investor laws (for all investors, not just foreign investors) and charge them tax for having empty properties in the city. (Last year, there were 33,000 homes that were vacant). Again, this is not just due to foreign investors, but investors in general. I would also look into ways of enticing migrants and citizens into regional New Zealand. New Zealand is defined by Auckland, and by having 1/3 of the countries population in the metro area, we need better ways of distributing that population throughout the country in a way that is economically beneficial for everyone. And lastly, I would look at ways to bring better, affordable housing to the area in a way that doesn’t become ghettoised and reaches people who desperately need it. While these are not easy, and Investors have a lot of stake here, and will push back at any more rules, we shouldn’t pin this solely on foreigners or non-kiwis as the problem.

10 years of bare bones interest rates and lax investor laws caused this, not just Investors from China.

Nonetheless, the “foreign investors” boogeyman has been sufficiently xenophobic enough to get people on the hate train. Several Banks have now stipulated that non-residents need a 40% upfront downpayment to buy an existing home. (which if it is an investor… would they really care?) and Labour will likely run on a campaign to restrict non-residents in buying a home, and it will likely be popular.

In the end, I think this is a bad move for New Zealand. This is a country that is open, free, and progressive. As a young nation, 87% of whom are immigrants themselves to this land in the last 200 years, we should not be attacking and blaming foreigners for problems of our own making. It is time we put away our blinders and look at the issue without discrimination over kiwi vs. non-kiwi. There is where we will find our solution, not by demonising the amorphous “Foreigner”

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