SAYit Blog
Is there a housing crisis? Part 1

We did a big poll on housing issues in late October / early November covering how concerned people are about the issue, what specifically they're worried about and what they think the causes are of the perceived housing crisis.  There's so much material here that I'll spread it out over several blogs so we can go into each issue separately.

I'm planning three blogs on this:

  • First, I'll share some numbers on how concerned people are about housing issues and what specifically they're concerned about.
  • Second, I'll look at poll results on how important people feel it is to own their own home, and whether they think the next generation will be able to do it.
  • Lastly, I'll give you some numbers on the perceived causes, including one on the frequently-heard debate - does the perceived housing crisis reflect young people having unrealistic demands or are they simply being priced out of the market?

I think that's too much to cover off in a single blog.

All results are from a UMR Research SAYit poll of n=1000 New Zealanders, conducted from October 29th to November 19th 2014.  The margin of error is +/- 3.1%.

I'm comfortable with using the term 'housing crisis' in this blog because the poll numbers say most New Zealanders agree that there is one.  Our first question simply asked "how concerned are you about the cost of housing in New Zealand"

  • 43% were very concerned
  • 39% somewhat concerned
  • 15% not that concerned
  • 3% not concerned at all

Combining 'very concerned' and 'somewhat concerned', we can say that a total of 82% are concerned about this issue.

Levels of concern are perhaps surprisingly consistent across demographic groups.  Although there are demographic differences, they're often not as big as I would have expected.

  • 86% of women are concerned about the cost of housing, compared with 78% of men.
  • 86% of Aucklanders and 83% of Cantabrians are concerned, but so are 78% of Wellington region residents, 78% of those living in other parts of the upper half of the North Island, 81% of those living in other parts of the lower half of the North Island, and 82% of those living in other parts of the South Island.
  • 86% of those with household incomes below $30,000 are concerned, but so are 76% of those with household incomes over $100,000.

The thing with that is, even though say people with low household incomes are concerned, the numbers show that around three quarters of those in our highest income group are concerned too, and you could make the same argument for the other demographics - even though some types of people are more concerned than others, there are clear majorities across the board.

One of the points of frustration with reporting these results is that the sample sizes don't allow me to give specific breakdowns for the urban areas of Wellington (the region includes Wairarapa) or, more importantly, for urban Christchurch.  Those Canterbury numbers are for the region as a whole, and I think it's reasonable to believe that if the sample size for Christchurch itself had been bigger we would have seen concern even higher there.

One case where I will allow myself to make a call based on a small sample size is with those renting and looking to buy, because the numbers are so overwhelming.  Even with the small sample size, I can still say that they're significantly more likely to be concerned about the issue.  

  • 99% of those who are renting and looking to buy (n=85) say they are concerned about the cost of housing
  • That is made up of 73% who are very concerned and 26% who are somewhat concerned.  

Again though, even those who are less directly affected are still generally concerned.  78% of those who own their homes freehold say they are concerned about the cost of housing.

Housing affordability is also a big issue for those who are renting and not looking to buy, with 91% saying that they are concerened about the cost of housing.  76% who own a home with a mortgage (the largest group) are concerned.

There's obviously a political dimension to this - again the sample sizes only allow me to provide breakdowns for the three largest parties.

  • 71% of National voters are concerned about the cost of housing, including 23% who are very concerned.
  • 92% of Labour voters are concerned, including 63% who are very concerned.
  • 92% of Green voters are concerned, including 52% who are very concerned.

In line with what I said earlier, even though Labour & Green voters are more likely to be concerned, 71% still represents a big proportion of National voters.

A lot of the debate seems to be about the cost of buying houses, but as you can see from the high concern amongst those who are renting and not looking to buy rents are a big issue too.  We thought it would be interesting to ask people which aspect of housing affordability concerned them the most - people's ability to buy their own hom, or people's ability to afford rents for a decent home.

  • 44% said that they were more concerned about people's ability to buy a home
  • 49% were more concerned about people's ability to afford rents for a decent home
  • 7% were unsure

I realise that that's an artificial choice and that it's quite possible to be concerned about both.  What these numbers suggest, however, is that the debate about housing affordability needs to be broader than just what you can buy a house for, and clearly that the solutions need to be broader than that.  If the government comes up with a scheme that, say, helps first home buyers to afford the deposit, that only directly addresses part of the problem - the challenges people face with finding somewhere decent to rent still remain.

The inclusion of the word 'decent' in the renting option is important too - I've heard plenty of comments from people in focus groups reporting that the places they could afford to rent were in poor condition, often cold and damp with all the accompanying implications for health.  Those people generally say that what they want is not simply a place they can afford the rent, but one which is free of those problems.

The specific aspect of housing people are concerned about varies by region.

  • Aucklanders went 50% for buying homes, 44% for renting homes
  • Cantabrians, on the other hand, went 31% for buying homes, 60% for renting homes

It's reasonable to suggest, however, that many people may have interpreted the 'cost of housing' question as referring specifically to the ability to buy houses (that question came first in the survey).  Of those who said they were concerned about housing, 48% say they were more concerned about buying homes and 48% about renting homes.  Of those who initially said that they were not concerned about housing in general, 25% said they were more concerned about buying homes and 52% about renting homes.  Two possible interpretations of that come to mind - either those who chose 'renting' are less concerned about housing in general and only chose renting because they had to choose an option, or that some people who are concerned about renting didn't think of it when asked about the cost of housing.  If the second interpretation is valid, then actual levels of concern about the broad issue of affordability of houses and renting are likely to be even higher than the initial survey question indicates.  Either way, it's fair to say that this is an issue that worries a lot of New Zealanders.

Part 2 is now available here.