Housing Crisis: Targeting Chinese people isn’t what Olivia Pope would do

By Lamia Imam

The current National government stopped recording the number of overseas residents buying houses in New Zealand. There’s actually no way for us to know the extent of damage non-residents are causing by buying up houses that apparently are rightfully ours. The way the Herald chose to present the problem in yesterday’s story is not only xenophobic but statistically unsound. The story is about a large chunk of buyer’s name being “Chinese”. Basically we have resorted to racially profiling buyers to explain why Kiwis are unable to buy their own homes? This is particularly heinous, given other surveys show that British and American buyers also make a chunk of the foreign purchase of Kiwi homes. And on top of that, Labour’s solution is really not a solution but rather an idea with little policy merit.

Keith Ng over at Public Address has broken down the actual number, addressing the fact that the data used is completely unreliable and the resulting conclusions completely false (on that note, there are some folks who desperately need to take a maths/statistics refresher course). Thomas Lumley at StatsChat has also done the same. And Minister Nick Smith also pointed out in the original Herald article that the data is sourced from one agency and looks at a specific time period. But I want to address how we talk about this and other ways to address the apparent problem of high house prices.

A number of people on Twitter tried to tell me that if the foreign ownership numbers end up being true, then this way of doing data analysis is accurate. These people are grossly mistaken and do not seem to understand that data itself without context is hugely problematic from a race perspective. This kind of data analysis would be akin to the FBI providing figures related to domestic terrorism in the United States from July 2001 to September 2001 based on last name analysis. Do we see how misleading and problematic that is? Just because it is true that a more “Muslim sounding” names would probably come up, does not mean we should racially profile all Muslims with those names, which would include a large chunk of non-Muslims and non-terrorists.


Labour has a policy proposal – it is to ban foreign residents from buying NZ homes. It is an interesting policy, one I do not necessarily agree with for a number of reasons.

  • The first being, we can’t actually ban all non-residents because of various trade agreements (like the CER) so exceptions will have to be made. Although Kiwis can’t buy houses in China so there might be some specific possibilities based on a two-way relationship rather than race.
  • The second, their impact analysis does not tell me how much of an effect it would actually have on house prices given similar policies exist in other countries that still face high house prices.
  • The third, it does not take into account our domestic situation of high-income Kiwis owning multiples houses for investment reasons because we do not have diverse investment opportunities that are also low risk.
  • The fourth, cost of living in New Zealand compared to wages. If wages do not allow Kiwis to buy a modest home in the area that they work, then perhaps there needs to be a discussion about how businesses can be incentivized to raise wages.
  • The fifth, comprehensive capital gains tax policy. We can restrict foreign ownership all we want but that alone probably will not fix the problem just like capital gains will not fix the problem if it is narrowly applied. Labour has effectively abandoned this policy for the moment as well.

The housing crisis is not a simple problem. One policy solution will not fix this problem. A policy that targets Chinese owners will absolutely not fix the problem and will create an additional political problem for Labour. For more on the political fallout, see John Palethorpe’s excellent post.

Labour’s Kiwibuild policy has some merit in my opinion. It could be further tweaked to make it restrictive in the following way –

  • Available for purchase by those living in New Zealand intending to buy a house as a first time buyer for the family; and
  • Only for those who have a certain income (for low to middle income families); and
  • They are sold at near cost price (so the government doesn’t make a profit but is essentially providing a service and in the process easing the pressure on the property market)

I don’t believe that Phil Twyford is racist, having dealt with him personally at work. I don’t think Labour believes that all Chinese folks are non-Kiwis but this was a terrible error in judgment on their part.  And, given the extent to which Kiwis can be racist, this is an uncomfortable policy for all minorities living in Aotearoa. Chinese folks will feel particularly uncomfortable and unwanted in their own country.

In conclusion, a policy that addresses the five concerns above and also allows low to middle income folks to access the housing market is a policy I can get behind. A policy that uses data analysis of people’s ethnic last name is an inherently racist policy and should be rejected. Just because the government will not collect adequate data does not mean we get to make up our own.

A Mediocre Idea

Special Edition #1

By Lamia Imam

Should New Zealand’s flag be changed? In short, yes probably.  I think a lot of us who in our personal lives are aligned to the political left might be irritated that our Prime Minister, who we don’t always hold in high esteem, has come up with this idea. But that is petty and unproductive. I’m a first generation Kiwi so I will happily admit that the current flag and I do not really share a warm fuzzy relationship wrapped in ancestral significance. In fact, my ancestors much like NZ’s tangata whenua were colonized by the Brits and therefore, I have a lot of ill feelings towards that regime and what it represents. The Union Jack aside, I also do not like the red, white and blue because to me it still symbolizes colonialism and US imperialism. But this is not about my aesthetic preference. This is about our national identity, the expression of our independence and our unique culture. Will changing the flag do that?

I always assumed that our flag would eventually change when we actually achieved something to deserve that change. We are not completely independent as a nation but we have been working towards it. Our judiciary is independent, our legislature is independent but our executive is not since the Queen of England is still our official head of state. I have spent a lot of time outside of New Zealand and by far people give me much more grief about still holding on to the Monarchy than how similar our flag is to Australia.

One thing that has really surprised me is that the flag discussion has not brought up the fact that we have a Constitutional Advisory Panel also looking at our constitutional arrangements. Their work suggests that there does not exist a lot of immediate national appetite to change the way we are set up as a country. But logically it makes no sense to me that we would change our flag while the Treaty settlement process is still on-going and while we are constitutionally speaking still tied to Britain. Some have cited Canada as a model for change. I do not believe the Canadian example is necessarily applicable to New Zealand, however, it is a compelling argument. Canada’s head of state is still the Queen of England but their flag does uniquely represent Canadians. There is an argument to be made that a flag change might propel us towards being a Republic, which would be a favourable outcome but I am not convinced that it will.

There is a Bill for the referendum to change the flag. The Select Committee just reported back on the Bill on the 29th of June. In a somewhat bizarre move, we are going to choose an alternative flag first and then decide whether we want to even change it. I think as a nation we should decide that we actually want a different flag first and then work to change it to something that reflects our identity, independence and culture. The media has been reporting that hardly anyone has shown up to the flag change meetings up and down the country which must be disappointing to the government.

The government often uses subjective understanding of what is a “priority” to them as way to refuse to address difficult policy problems. Changing the flag is not a civil rights issue and I think we can legitimately say that this change is really not a priority for Kiwis given the enormous problems the country is currently facing. I do think the flag should change. I do not think the current flag is inclusive or representative and I think it symbolizes a history of colonialism which is offensive. However, the process seems to be flawed and the timing seems to be wrong. I think John Key desperately wants something non-controversial to be part of his legacy as Prime Minister because “being really liked” is not very Statesman-esque. As ex-Minister Simon Power said in his valedictory speech – “Once in office, you’ve got to do something. That is why having a plan matters. Ideas also matter. In politics, ideas matter more than the political players themselves, because those people will come and go, but ideas endure.” John Key seems to be approaching this without a concrete plan. It is a good idea but it’s an ill-timed and ill thought out idea. I think the end result will be a banal flag with predictable designs. Like Canada, we will get used to it and accept it but I am not entirely sure that we will necessarily invoke John Key in our minds when we stand below it.