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March 20, 2017 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Flat out of options — what’s going on with Wellington’s rental madness?

The words “renting crisis” have been thrown about a fair bit over the last few weeks. But do commentators and politicians get what this actually means for students and other renters struggling to find a place to live? I suspect not.

From the outset it’s important to acknowledge that the crisis is affecting more than just students: high costs and short supply impacts renters throughout our community — professionals, families, and beneficiaries.

However the experience for students is all too often the feeling that you are right at the bottom of the ladder. You will be the very last people among the 60 others at a flat viewing to talk to the landlord or property agent — let alone secure the flat.

Wellington’s rental problems are the result of a few factors. Last November’s earthquake meant the city is down hundreds of beds, and the housing crisis is causing people to stay in the rental market longer because they cannot afford to buy.

Meanwhile, the number of students living in Wellington has increased to levels higher than we have ever seen before. So there are more people competing for less rooms.

Our friends the rental agencies are, of course, doing nothing to help. Their business model relies on high-turnover tenancies allowing them to clip the ticket more often and squeeze money out of tenants to satisfy the landlords who employ them, while putting the admin cost onto you in the form of a letting fee.


As we pay more our flats ain’t getting warmer.

Last year the Government changed tenancy laws with the intent to improve the quality of rentals. We said these changes didn’t go far enough, as they did not attempt to solve the mould problem or require any heating provisions in flats.

One change required landlords to disclose what level of insulation they have in order to put market pressure on landlords to install it. However lack of supply and high demand means this is not happening. No one is going to turn their nose up at a lack of insulation if the choice is house or no house, right?


But surely as cost goes up, so will our support?

I can’t help but feel that this year’s rental crisis is exposing the gross lack of student support from our government. There are so many questions to be asked here.

For starters — what’s up with the bogus “living costs” scheme when the maximum amount able to be borrowed is $176.86 per week, despite the huge variation in cost of living around the country?

Why should someone studying in Wellington who is paying $215 per week in rent receive exactly the same amount as someone paying $150 in Dunedin? A regional approach needs to be taken, or we will end up with a student elite being able to choose what and where they want to study, while the rest have the decision made for them.

Don’t get me wrong — I strongly believe doing some part time work while studying is beneficial — but research shows that the average student who works more than 15–20 hours per week will have lower academic performance because of it.


So where do we go from here?

The only short-term solution on the cards is introducing the long overdue student public transport fares which would enable people to live further out of the city. Longer term, we need the City Council and the university to get in the room and have a good ol’ chat about building some more decent, affordable accommodation, because without places to live Wellington can’t take any more students!


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