What It's Like To Be A Renting MP

Published: Thu 23 May 2024 11:38 AM
Susan Edmunds, Money Correspondent
Marama Davidson is in a minority in New Zealand's Parliament.
The Green Party co-leader does not own her own home and rents in Manurewa, south Auckland.
"The whole time I've been in Parliament I've been a renter."
It is easier now than it once was. In her maiden speech, Davidson talked about how tough it had been to find a home for her family.
"At the beginning of this year my family were priced out of our rental property, and so we sought another cheaper house in Auckland to rent," she said in 2015.
"I looked at 30-something houses and applied for 20-something of them. For some properties there were more than 30 other applicants.
"I did not get called back for any of them, and I started to feel every bit of whatever it was that meant that we were not preferred renters. Finally, we got a call-back, and it was for a house that no one else was lining up for."
As an MP tenant, she is treated very differently.
"It's a massive difference... I have advantages most renters don't have. We face some of the ordinary challenges that renters do face, sometimes things don't get fixed as soon as they need to, all that sort of stuff, but they pale in comparison to the experiences of the majority of renters. We are lucky, we are fortunate to be able to afford rent and be in a stable situation."
Her family has been in the same property since soon after she became an MP and she suspects that the landlord is in no hurry to kick her out.
"We would love to own the home we are currently renting, we've made approaches to offer to buy the home but I think in all honesty they are really happy to have decent income renters in their home."
The rent had increased "substantially" over the time she had lived there, she said.
She still hoped to buy a house but would like to stay as nearby as possible.
"We've put down roots. I would like for everyone to be able to put down roots, to have their children stay in their local school, to know their employment isn't going to be impacted because they are moving further away, moving further away from public transport routes.
"I would like to be in a privileged position to buy a home, but I wish New Zealand was a country where you could be guaranteed a quality life, a stable life for your family even if you didn't own a home."
The other MPs who do not list ownership of a home in this year's register of pecuniary interests are Labour MP Peeni Henare, Green MP Tamatha Paul, National MP James Meager and Darleen Tana, although Tana notes interests in trusts that could own properties. Act MP Andrew Hoggard also does not list a property but does list a farm business.
In contrast about half the 120 MPs report owning more than one property. National MP Matt Doocey reports owning part of Avon Shopping Centre in Christchurch.
Across the wider New Zealand population, about a third of households are renting. Data from 2021 showed there were just over 120,000 active landlords with bonds lodged.
Infometrics chief forecaster Gareth Kiernan said that meant that the MPs were representative of the make-up of the wider New Zealand population.
"I'd like to say it doesn't make a difference because the theoretical thing is that MPs are in Parliament to serve the public interest rather than their own. But we're all human."
He said MPs' perception of their voter bases was likely to play a bigger part in their decision-making.
"If you think there's a lot of investors in your voter base, you'll be reluctant to bring in changes that are detrimental to those financial interests because you'll think people won't vote for you."
Shamubeel Eaqub, an independent economist, agreed that was a bigger issue.
"It's not just that the MPs have property and investment property and hence there is a vested interest - it's that people who vote for them and engage with them are similar. It's unhelpful to go 'isn't it terrible MPs have all these houses' - well it is but it also means the people they're dealing with and the group represented in our political system is increasingly from the landed gentry."
He said that meant policies such as a capital gains tax struggled to get support. "Turkeys and Christmas. As we have seen, not only do our politicians not like it but our public doesn't like it, either."
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