Victoria Crockford of The Collective Project responds to Bernard Hickey’s warnings that  millennials will remain shut out of the housing market unless they become more politically active.

Over the Easter break our various social media feeds were overrun with opinion on Newsroom’s recent piece; Trolling gen-rent easier than getting them to vote.

The story was a wind-up, and it worked. Its conclusion – that “Generation rent are more interested in The Bachelor than in understanding how politicians and voters are working to keep them as tenants” – was offensive.

So, as a Collective we decided to seek a right of reply. Not because we claim to speak for a generation, but because we didn’t want to sit by and see citizenship pitched as a contest, where some voices are crowded out.

We took issue with two main points: that all millennials want to buy houses and that young people are apathetic about politics.

All millennials want to buy houses

As Bernard Hickey rightly points out, it looks to have become editorial policy for most national media to troll young people on housing issues. Other commentators, including Hickey, have picked this trolling apart to illustrate the realities of the house price boom and the ways in which the data has been misrepresented in stories about buying houses.

Our issue is with the continued failure, by media and politicians, to draw a line between housing security and social mobility.

The housing crisis in New Zealand is not about millennials choosing to spend their money on avocado on toast and their Dads being miffed about it.

The housing crisis is about shameful levels of housing insecurity in a country that can do better. It’s about people living in cars, in garages and on the street. It’s about kids not having a place to sleep while politicians belatedly buy-up local motels.

It’s about unserviceable levels of debt in an environment where a culture of competitive self-interest often goes unchallenged in mainstream media and politics.

We’re also irked that housing is constantly used as a hook to continue skewed coverage of what young people supposedly want.

The focus of every young person’s life isn’t to get on the “housing ladder”. We don’t all dream of buying a quarter acre section and settling down. Not all of us want to buy a house so we can make a capital gain and buy a bigger house.

The meanings of security and well-being have changed dramatically with the changing nature of work and for many, the flexibility of renting outweighs the responsibility of home ownership. So, while we are absolutely concerned about appropriate taxation on assets and the inadequate housing stock, we are also concerned about policies that ensure security of tenure and rentals that are warm and dry.

Our sense of socio-economic direction for our generation is so much more than just home ownership.

Which leads us to our second issue.

Young people are apathetic about politics

This piece concludes baby boomers have little to fear from gen-rent taking their electoral “revenge” because “that would require Generation Rent to actually become engaged in politics and vote.”

The thing is, we are engaged in politics.

It just isn’t politics as usual. Gen-rent might not stress conceptions of duty-bound citizenship, but we get behind democratic principles, and democratic values. Low participation in voting does not mean low engagement in politics.

The direction and health of our democracy is about more than the power vested in our elected representatives.

As a cohort millennials are extremely purpose-focused and seek to integrate the political causes they care about into their daily lives – not just on voting day. We’re also active contributors in the increasingly powerful online public sphere.

The idea that you can turn up to a polling booth every three years and expect a handful of political parties to be there representing your interests doesn’t compute with many young New Zealanders, especially when so few of the candidates share any of our lived experiences.

Of course voting is important, but playing generations off against each other isn’t the answer to higher turnout.

Boxing millennials into a make-believe corner where they have to pick Art Green or Bill English is not advancing the debate.

What would advance the debate is recognising that civic commitment looks a little different these days.

Millennials aren’t trading their democratic rights for roses, but we do expect to be engaged on terms that we relate to. Doesn’t everyone?

In 2017 wouldn’t we do better to take a look at how New Zealanders live their citizenship, in person, online or while watching The Bachelor, rather than measuring the strength of engagement on voting patterns alone?

Reading the articles that have abounded lately, you would think the aim of our leading media outlets is to stoke all-out intergenerational warfare. We refuse to make it about that.

This isn’t about millennials versus boomers.

This isn’t about home-owners versus renters.

This isn’t about voting versus The Bachelor.

This is about how our political system and our media – who so often define the context in which we discuss the issues of significance to our nation – change so that all citizens see themselves reflected in it.

Perhaps then we will fill the voting booths.

Victoria Crockford, Engagement and Outreach, The Collective Project.

Twitter: @vicleecrockford

The Collective Project ~ a roughly organised group of people of various backgrounds, living standards and character. We aim to bring people together for progressive purpose. We believe Aotearoa New Zealand will be a more equitable, sustainable and prosperous country if more New Zealanders are engaged in political decision-making.

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