Anna Rawhiti-Connell doesn’t want an investment or an asset, but a home. Yet because of last century’s broken promises, she feels like an idiot fish, destined to swim against a current with other idiot fish who think their life savings and lifelong debt will guarantee them a house.
We went to some open homes over the weekend. I put on a sundress. Yellow flowers. My husband wore a shirt. Idiotic really but somehow I’d hoped to convey a sense of being a nice couple who just wanted a home; not land, not an investment, not an asset, but a home. It didn’t matter because there is no one to impress, no one to care. Not the bank, not the real estate agents, not the vendors, not the government. No one to care about who you are or what your aspirations might be. There is no one to care because there is only the market.
We went along, clutching our metaphorical bag of money. Idiot fish carried along by a current of foreseen circumstances, in a school of many other idiot fish who think their life savings and lifelong debt will guarantee them what they’ve always been told it will. Idiot fish swimming right into the jaws of the market. My yellow sundress and his ironed collar carry no weight here, we might have been better to wear sacks. Sacks stuffed with cash, bills trailing behind us.
We were looking at a two-bedroom ‘cottage’. An 80s build that had had nothing done to it since the 80s. “The market is hot”, we heard over and over. A man in sportswear wearing sunglasses inside, perhaps to shield his eyes from the hot market, flipped his polarised lens up, stared straight into the white heat of it and casually talked about having a ‘couple of mill’. My mouth opened and shut. Idiot fish.
The party of the working class is now presiding over one of the biggest transfers of wealth and security away from the class they purported to protect. Your labour belongs to your landlord. There is no safety net, the social contract is void. It is time to pop a shroud over the portraits of Mickey Savage.
I gestured uselessly at the heat pump and said to the no one that cares, “It has a heat pump”. I think I was desperately trying to signal that we were serious about wanting a house and had done due diligence on the importance of heating and cooling one. His figure is many hundreds of thousands of dollars beyond where we think our absolute outer limit is. I have had waves of angry nausea for the last three weeks thinking about our number. Angry nausea on our behalf. Angry nausea on behalf of everyone for whom our number is way beyond their outer limit. There was no nausea when the Sun God in the flippy glasses spoke his number out loud, just numbness.
The dog copped some anger when we got home. “You are why we can’t buy an apartment”. He rolled over asking for his belly to be rubbed and just looked at us as if to say: “Guys, I didn’t ask to be born.” He is why we can’t buy an apartment but he is also the closest we may get to a kid, our IVF savings now tied up with our deposit. And quite frankly, I am sick of feeling like I have to apologise for being in the market for a home with a fence and patch of dirt where the dog can shit in peace. I am sick of apologising for wanting to stay in Auckland, the place where we have built careers, lives, friendships, and communities. I am sick of buying into narratives about sacrifice and compromise, because these narratives are false.
Because we’re in the market, our social media feeds are flooded with ads, our inboxes overgrown with property propaganda. “Happy reading!” chirps the OneRoof editor in an email about the amount of money you now need for a deposit. We’re drowning in ads from banks, ads from real estate agents proclaiming their “$500,000 over RV sales” victories and ads for houses we could afford last year but now can’t.
You too can pull yourself up by the bootstraps, never mind the state house you grew up in, and become a merchant banker. The problem with that is that almost everyone would have to become a merchant banker to afford a house.
The most egregious of the bank ads at the moment is one suggesting that if you were to plant and grow a single crop, tomatoes in this case, and just eat them for ages, you’ll eventually be able to buy what looks like a very nice villa. It’s meant to signify sacrifice and aspiration; the bank, a friendly face and helping hand along the way. Instead it represents the outer limits of the lies our generation was told and the now broken promises we were made.
I did the sums – if we cut our annual grocery and food bill to nothing and lived on tomatoes (providing we didn’t die of some nutritional deficiency), we still would not save enough money to make up the difference between what was a 20 percent deposit in 2019 and what is one now. In Auckland, that difference is $41,000 based on the median property price. We don’t eat $41,000 worth of food in a year so that bank ad is bullshit unless they include the couple also selling an organ. Each.
The one good thing about this is that I’ve stopped beating myself up about everything I’ve ever spent money on over the course of my entire life. Since we started saving, I’ve gone back over every dumb thing I’ve ever bought. If I’d spent less money on Savage Garden CDs at uni and instead saved that money, maybe we’d have a house. If I’d never started dying my hair and instead been content with my natural shade of Brethren brown, maybe I’d have a house. If we’d gotten married without 70 friends and family to share in that significant and joyful moment, maybe we’d have a house. It’s now at a point where the only thing you can safely say is that if we’d stopped eating three years ago, maybe we’d have a house.
The thing is, I’ve given up hope that the Government can or will do much about this. Both of our major political parties are now holding the shards of last century’s big broken promises in their hands. Both parties are culpable. This is not a problem that arose a year ago and both the Key and the Clark governments helped stoked the bonfire upon which the current Government is both tipping fuel and occasionally trying to dampen down.
Labour, the words of Norman Kirk about the four basic needs are fading into the background, drowned out by the roar of the market. The party of the working class is now presiding over one of the biggest transfers of wealth and security away from the class they purported to protect. Your labour belongs to your landlord. There is no safety net, the social contract is void. It is time to pop a shroud over the portraits of Mickey Savage.
For National, the big ideological axel has always been that anyone, if they work hard enough, will be rewarded. You too can pull yourself up by the bootstraps, never mind the state house you grew up in, and become a merchant banker. The problem with that is that almost everyone would have to become a merchant banker to afford a house and while you may want to get your flying start in a state house, there aren’t enough to go round. As we watch wealth being hoarded, tied up in land and houses, passed down and around the landed gentry, sacrifice and hard work guarantee nothing anymore.
Perhaps some honour can be restored to these shattered promises. It will take time. Perhaps another whole generation. In the meantime, it’s becoming obvious that a parallel stream of work needs to begin in dealing with the social and economic fallout of our current situation. What happens when a greater number of retirees don’t own a home? When generations of people have no access to the cheaper line of credit a home loan affords? What happens to schools, hospitals and businesses as populations become more transient, people moving from suburb to suburb and city to city chasing rentals and homes they can afford? And to communities when the intangible benefits of putting down roots and building a life somewhere are ripped from our social fabric?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, I’m just an idiot fish in a yellow sundress writing a column that will join the pile of columns and warnings not heeded on this subject. All I’m after is a two-bedroom house with a sliver of dirt for an idiot dog.