Ghost busters

It is fascinating how little politicians and journalists (and local councillors) care about public opinion these days. Last week, I wrote an article about empty houses, particularly in Auckland. It was based on a piece from Stuff which suggested taxing houses that are kept empty. Well, here is the follow-up article, also from?Stuff. Even just the first few sentences almost beggar belief. Quote:

Last week we polled?73,700?Stuff?readers on?ghost houses?? those houses that sit empty for years as the owners wait for capital gain.

These are the houses where the owners think tenants are simply too much trouble. They don’t want the hassle of renting and the possible damage, and they certainly don’t want to help out a homeless family. End quote.

There can be lots of reasons why people do not live in the houses they own, and not wanting tenants is only one of them. Landbanking, travelling overseas, working in a different part of the country, holding for capital gain… but the writer makes out that these people are somehow wrong to do this. Quote:

Outspoken economist Gareth Morgan is one of them. He?told Three’s?The Nation?programme that he owns six houses and he doesn’t rent them out because tenants “make the carpets dirty”.?Good grief. First-world problems. End quote.

Actually, it is not a first world problem. Wealthy people have owned multiple houses for centuries. There are many in the third world that do too.? Quote:

And he’s not alone. It turns out a massive 84 per cent of you think we should leave the owners of ghost houses alone and not tax them, as they do in?places, such as Vancouver. In that city, the?NZ$33.7 million expected to be earned this year through the tax on empty houses (1 per cent of the property value) will be poured?straight into affordable housing.

Surely such?a?tax is a?disincentive to speculators to “buy a house, park their money, pull the blinds and leave”, as one North Shore resident puts it? End quote.

So 84% of the voters polled on Stuff disagree that empty houses should be taxed. Now the readership of Stuff is probably quite varied, so these are not all right wingers voting against the tax. There must be a few socialists voting against it too. All in all, then, you might think that the journalist would give up while the going was good? But no. Quote:

The social cost of ghost houses in our communities is foremost about the housing crisis that sees people homeless, unable to afford the high rents that a result from high demand and poor supply. (Take 33,000 houses out of the mix in Auckland and that’s exactly what you get.)

To all of the people who voted “no” to the idea of a tax on ghost houses (61,908 at last count), here’s a question: Would it really hurt?to rent out your house to a family?

You are already in a position of privilege. You can pick and choose your tenants. You have bonds and insurance. And you will receive a not inconsiderable income. If you are still shaking your head, then how about you just pay a tax instead? End quote.

Or you can pick and choose whether or not to rent out your house. It is as simple as that. Ownership gives choices, and we start down a slippery slope if we start forcing property owners to rent out their houses.

I feel that the writer just does not understand the mismatch between a homeless family in Manukau and a rental property in Mission Bay. Would that family be able to afford $1,000 per week in rent? Of course not. It is not just that there are no rentals available, there are no affordable rentals available for a lot of families. Quote:

Reader Catherine Bright has?spotted numerous empty houses on her walks around Orakei and Mission Bay. She would love to see an “Action Station” campaign, and struggles to understand why any politician wouldn’t support regulation.

Bright is essentially asking, what is the hidden agenda here? If it’s simply the logistical challenge of introducing a tax, that would be a “lame excuse”. End quote.

Here is the danger. She has spotted ‘numerous empty houses’ and has jumped to the conclusion that they are all owned by mean nasty capitalists who hate the poor and should be taxed on their wealth. How does she know that one of those houses is not owned by a family on an extended overseas trip? Another by someone in hospital after an accident? Another by someone who works in Wellington on secondment and comes home about once a month? How does she know another house isn’t someone’s holiday home? She doesn’t. It is just another beat up, driven by nothing more than envy.

Nothing new there. What is particularly interesting is that, even though 84% of people disagree, the socialist agenda is still rammed down everyone’s throats. Four legs good, two legs bad. (Animal Farm by George Orwell.) If you have a spare house, rent it out. It doesn’t matter what your tenants do to it.

We haven’t quite got to that point yet. It won’t be long, though.