The Need in New Zealand

A recent government commissioned report ‘A stocktake of New Zealand’s housing’ began with the following statement:

“With homeownership now at a 60-year low and families forced to live in overcrowded houses, it is clear New Zealand’s housing system is failing too many people. That an unknown number of children are living in cars and thousands more are admitted to hospital every year with preventable illnesses caused by poor housing, is nothing short of a tragedy” [i]
— A Stocktake of New Zealand Housing (2018) P. Howden-Chapman, A. Johnson, S. Eaqub. New Zealand Government

New Zealand’s current housing crisis has a negative rippling affect across the whole economy, affecting New Zealand’s wealth distribution, health and social well-being. These impacts are felt most acutely by families and individuals with low incomes. 

Here are some of the key issues that define the housing crisis in New Zealand. Click here to read about Habitat’s definition of adequate housing.

Today a house costs up to 9.6 times a household income

Only 15 years ago the cost of owning a home was 4 times a salary in Auckland and approximately 3 times for the rest of New Zealand. The graph below shows the sharp increased in this figure, as house prices dramatically outgrow household incomes., home ownership rates have decreased, and also the high debt burden against properties. 

Fig 1. NZ house prices as a multiple of median income (Source: United Nations)

NZ house prices median income graph.png

This realty is forcing many families down the housing continuum, and into rental properties.

Poor quality existing housing stock

Almost everyone in New Zealand will have experienced the problems associated with New Zealand’s poor housing stock. Single glazed windows, poor or no insulation, draughty, cold and damp rooms, and high vulnerability to mould.  

These poor conditions are linked to increased illnesses and infections, especially in young children and the elderly. The flow-on effects from this unhealthy environment, impairs children's ability to succeed in school, requires days of work for parents to attend to their sick children, and erodes families' hope and self-worth.[ii]

In addition, cold, damp and draughty homes cost a lot to heat, which is unaffordable for many low income families. The impact of these problems is felt most acutely by low income families living in the rented accommodation.


In 2017 Auckland Council estimated the number of homeless living in the city, described as those living in severe housing deprivation, at 23,409. This represents an increase of 13% since 2013.[iii]

The 2013 Census estimates that 1 in 100 now live in severe housing deprivation, up from 1 in 120 in 2006, and 1 in 130 in 2001. 

Housing affordability and the lack of emergency housing spaces are considered two of the core contributors to this increasing number. 

The high cost of housing keeps a family in a cycle of poverty

Housing is a significant element of the household budget and an important determinant of the standard of living. As a rule of thumb we hope to spend approximately 33% of out income on housing, including utilities. A recent Salvation Army study found that on average families were spending 40% of their income on rent alone,[iv]and in the lower income decile this spending was up to 50%. 

The high cost of housing keeps families in a cycle of poverty, as insufficient income is left to meet other basic needs such as food, clothing, transport, medical care and education.

Read more about affordability and the six dimensions of housing adequacy.


Declining home ownership rates, particularly for Maori and Pasifika. 

Home ownership in New Zealand has fallen to 63%,[v] its lowest levels in 67 years. While ownership levels have fallen across the country and affected all groups, the drop has been particularly acute for Maori (20%) and Pasifika (35%).[vi]


As a consequence, more families are being forced into poor quality and overcrowded rental properties. The kiwi dream of owning your own home and the financial and social stability that this can bring is now way beyond the reach of much of the population. 

Living in the Housing Void

It is acknowledged that many low income families are now living in what can be termed ‘The Housing Void.[vii]This is defined as the space between the social and private rental market. In this space exists those living in garages, the unreported homeless, and those in overcrowded housing. 

Families in this position may be awaiting state housing provision, or have fallen out of the rental market. These are families whose income ensures they lead a precarious financial existence, where unexpected financial obligations such as a high utilities bill, car repairs, or loss of job can quickly lead to them losing their accommodation. 

Also included are a high number of families living in poor quality rental accommodation, affected by negative health outcomes associated with cold, damp housing. Within this cohort is, as has been detailed, a disproportionate number of Maori and Pacifica. These are the working poor.  

10% of the New Zealand population lives in overcrowded homes

Many New Zealand families share their home with other families to save money, which leads to overcrowding. The most recent statistics show that 10% of New Zealand households are overcrowded.[viii]Overcrowding is more common for Māori (23%) and Pacifica people (43%). Overcrowding also increases the risk of transmitting infectious diseases. 

Another aspect that feeds overcrowding is the unaffordability of heating a home; children and other household members sleep in the same room to keep warm during winter which again stimulates sickness.

Read more about overcrowding and the six dimensions of housing adequacy.

New Zealand has one of the most restrictive rental terms and conditions in the world

Based on a sample of international comparisons, see link New Zealand has some of the most ‘restrictive’ rental practices, from the viewpoint of the renter.[ix]

Lease terms are short, tenants can be asked to move with short notice, leases can be terminated on almost any condition as long as notice is given, and personal customisation is often difficult (such as pets, minor alterations and decorations).

Read more about security of tenure and the six dimensions of housing adequacy.


[i] A Stocktake of New Zealand Housing (2018) P. Howden-Chapman, A. Johnson, S. Eaqub. New Zealand Government

[ii]Our children, our choice: priorities for policy (2014) M. Claire Dale, M. Obrien, S. St John. Child Poverty Action Group. 

[iii]Homeless crisis. NZ Herald. 12 Feb 2018.

[iv]State of the Nation – Off the Track (2017) A. Johnson. Salvation Army

[v]Statistics NZ. Figure reported in NZ Herald 10 Jan 2017. 

[vi]A Stocktake of New Zealand Housing (2018) P. Howden-Chapman, A. Johnson, S. Eaqub. New Zealand Government. Figures taken from 1986 - 2013

[vii]Exploring Security of Tenure through Co-Design (2017) MBIE, Auckland Council. 

[viii]Analysis of Household crowding (2014) R. Le Lievre, E. Griffin (Ministry of Health)

[ix]Renovating Housing Policy (2013) J.F. Kelly, C. Hunter, P. Donegan (2013) Grattan Institute, Melbourne. 

If I could thank you every day of my life, it still wouldn’t be enough.
— Te Akau- partner family recipient