Power to the tenants: re-claiming the rental market

By Ellipsister (Co-Ed.)

The housing crisis does not stop at home ownership. It is about rents. It is about landlords. And it is about tenants.

Like many in my generation, I am a serial renter. In fact, we (my whānau) currently pay rent in two places because I commute between Auckland and Wellington. Although, I only pay rent for a room in Wellington, and not an entire house. That I am in a position to commute is a privilege that very few others can afford. I get that. However, despite my privilege, my experience and the similar experiences of others is not irrelevant simply because of the wider reaching social impacts of the housing crisis on low-income families and earners. We need to get on the same page. The reality is that it is situations like mine – those of middle income that contribute to homelessness and not in the way you might think.

 The spectrum

Talk of the housing spectrum from homelessness to home ownership is common in policy circles. But it is flawed. The spectrum is not linear and treating it as such perpetuates the problem. A major assumption from policymakers and political parties alike is that if we just build more houses (supply) and make finance more readily available to prospective buyers then bingo! Everyone will have a home. We just have to look to the US sub-prime lending that led to the 2008 GFC to see the horrible consequences of that kind of an initiative. We need to understand that the housing crisis is as much about rules and the distribution of power, as it is about supply and finance.

 The middle

In the past, the housing cycle saw people move into their own homes, or upgrade their rentals as their incomes increased creating financial security. The housing crisis that began in Auckland and its cancerous spread to other regions has created a short circuit in that cycle. For my generation, only those people whose parents can help can continue on that cycle. The rest of us languish in dilapidating properties, unable to save for our own homes due to the excessive rental prices we pay, unable to upgrade to suitable rentals because we are priced out of the next rung on the ladder, and often unwilling to move because value for money properties no longer exist. This means that we – the middle-income earners – have captured the affordable rental and created a rental scarcity for low-income earners. We are the group who in practical terms not only prevent low-income whānau accessing affordable rental homes, but exacerbate the growing levels of homelessness.

I know it’s not right to talk about middle income earners moving into nice homes so that low income families can access their left over rundown rentals. I’m not proposing that we only find solutions for middle income earners. I am highlighting that part of the problem lies in the rental space and the short-circuiting of a cycle that has operated to minimise homelessness. Ignoring the hamstringing of middle-income earners prolongs the problem of homelessness, inaccessibility to suitable rentals, and the unequal share of power held by landlords.

 The key issues for renters

Some general themes that consistently arise for renters include:

  • Move in costs: These upfront costs usually involve –
  • 2 weeks rent (up to 4 weeks max) as bond;
  • 2 weeks rent in advance; and
  • 1 weeks rent plus GST as a letting fee.

For a middle-income family, the rent will often be around $500-700 per week. This amount of rent signifies these families could conceivably service a mortgage of their own. But even on good income, people don’t generally have over $3,000 just sitting around that makes it possible for them to move and given the rental costs, are not in any position to ‘save’ the 20 percent deposit needed to make them eligible for a mortgage.

For the record, I’m not interested in anecdotal policy qualifications of ‘I saved X while doing A, B and C, so everyone else is just lazy and stupid’. I mean it’s great that the system worked for those of you who think like that. You clearly had the privilege of some particularly favourable conditions. But by your own admission, it’s not working for the majority of other people. Evidenced by your view that people who don’t experience the world as you do are, um stupid and lazy.

  • Affordability:  Price is the key determinant for whether a renter will tenant a rental property. We know that rental prices vary for homes of similar size and quality and we understand that major price discrepancies are often associated with location. But this isn’t always the case, and despite some reports claiming rents are not increasing we renters are seeing spikes in prices on properties without any maintenance or upgrade. The reality is that a 3-bedroom hardy plank shit box with no upgrade since it was built in the 1970’s will now sting the renter over $500, a price that only a few years ago would get you a new build or renovated rental.
  • Quality:  Renters want and need a property that is warm, dry, safe and functional (i.e. no outstanding major repairs). What is on offer is often uninsulated (or depleted insulation), damp homes in need of some fundamental repairs (e.g. wiring, light fittings, plumbing, joinery) and upgraded furnishings such as carpets, curtains, wallpaper or paint.

 

  • Tenancy agreements: Tenancy agreements are an annoying but necessary part of being a tenant. They protect both the tenant and landlord. However, it is the landlord who will ultimately determine if the lease is for fixed or periodic tenancy. Being bound to a property for a fixed term and liable for rent if you find a more suitable property before your lease expires means that people cannot move unless they can afford to service two rental properties. Fixed term arrangements are intended to provide certainty, but they don’t they minimise the choices a renter can make.

 

Power to the tenants

rental policy

Requiring the letting fee to be payable by the Landlord not the tenant

One means of giving power back to tenants would be to amend the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 to require landlords to pay the letting fee not the tenant. See the Tenancy Tribunal website.

The work done by the letting agent, is for the benefit of the landlord. It is grossly unfair. A tenant should not have to pay a fee that deals with administrating a property that they do not own, for work that was undertaken prior to them obtaining quiet enjoyment of the property.  Landlords should not be allowed to pass on administrative costs to tenants. If they don’t want to advertise the property themselves, then that is their choice, not the tenants choice.

Implementing a rent cap and a star rating for rental properties

Like others, I have been thinking about the viability of rent cap, and the idea of a star rating for rental properties was brought to my attention in the weekend. Restricting the price and developing a robust rental property criterion gives rights back to tenants who spend a large proportion of their incomes paying rent, or in many cases, someone’s mortgage.

We know that rent is just too high and even those on good incomes are finding rentals increasingly unaffordable. While Christchurch is reported to be experiencing a reduction in rent prices, with some landlords offering a week’s free rent, Auckland and other parts of the country are ridiculously expensive and there are no signs of cooling off.

A rent cap could provide the right lever to keep people in homes that are affordable, and combined with a star rating could incentivise landlords to maintain and repair rental properties thereby improving the quality of homes in the rental market. It could be either a temporary or a permanent measure. It could include provisions for market or inflation adjustment.

I’m not going to speculate here about what the rent cap should be. However, the process might involve a price band where rental values are based on the star rating they receive from an independent property assessor.

The star rating could align with the housing Warrant of Fitness (WOF) standards. For example, a home that fully complied would receive a 5 star rating and be able to charge rent at the top end of the band. A property that only complied with part of the WOF standards and received a 1 star rating would only be able to charge at the lower end of the band. This would also give tenants an ability to negotiate the rent required to tenant the property.

I note that price bands should vary depending on location, and that should be a factor in establishing the price bands.

A groundrent for despicable landlords

A property that did not meet any WOF standards, could be deemed uninhabitable. If the landlord refused to meet those standards and left the property vacant, then the government could apply a groundrent to cover the social cost of taking a property out of the market. Doing so could help bring about stability, by ensuring vacant properties were not used to create an artificial scarcity that drives up house prices.  The intention would be to disincentivise landlords from simply land banking and encourage them to either repair the property to WOF standard, or sell it.

We need a real world solution for a real world problem not an ideological driven rant that narrows the field of investigation and subdues innovation.

An alternative to the ‘ban’ on foreign homeownership

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By Ellipsister

We are obsessed with home ownership. In an effort to make home ownership a reality for more people living in Aotearoa, our political parties have all proposed what they see as solutions to our housing crisis. From land taxes on foreign investors, to outright bans of foreign home ownership. But is there another option?

Banning foreign home ownership in Aotearoa is a policy option that has been circulated by opposition parties over the past few years as the Auckland housing market has become an unrealistic dream, especially for first-home buyers. It’s been peddled in varying degrees from banning foreign ownership of any land in Aotearoa, to banning foreign homebuyers, to banning foreign ownership of houses by non-resident investors.

I’m not a fan of taking punitive measures to alleviate social issues. And yes, I am arguing that preceding anything with the word ‘ban’ is punitive and that housing – renting or owning is social. Aside from the xenophobic image banning foreign [insert anything here] feeds into, it also ignores the importance that foreign investment has made and continues to make in Aotearoa.

I accept that some people visualise a utopia in which we all live on a self-sufficient plot of land, working as a community, isolated from the trappings of capitalism, and independent of foreign investment. Conversely, some people will visualise a utopia in which people are free to hoard as many resources and as much capital as they desire in partnership with uber wealthy foreign investors. As far as I can tell, neither of those utopias are a reality nor an aspiration for the majority of people in Aotearoa. So rather than a ban of foreign investment in land or homes, I propose a more compassionate option that doesn’t demonise foreign investors or investment – a ‘Letter of Justification’.

I’m imagining a society where people who want to own houses, rather than competing on price – compete on best interests.

My understanding is that when putting in an offer for a house, you can already write a letter to the vendor to support your tender. My question is then why not make this a more prominent part of a sale? Why not introduce a requirement to justify why your bid should be accepted over others?

When buyers are required to justify why they should be entitled to the privilege of taking exclusive possession of a property, we move away from the profit motive, and toward a more equitable and socially just system for property ownership. This would mean that non-resident foreign investors and domestic property speculators would have to make a strong case for why they should be able to own a property over a  homebuyer who intends to live in the home they purchase. The effect being that we reduce the typical financial advantage enjoyed by investors through the increased appeal to equity for the intend-to-live-in-it homebuyer.

How might we design a robust system that supports ‘competing on best interests’? Well, that I haven’t fully explored yet. But we all have a society toward which our actions are directed and I think this is a good place to start.

Reforming Our Whenua

By Ellipsister, Co-Editor

Are the changes to Te Ture Whenua Māori a land grab of seismic proportions, as declared by some commentators? Or a reform that will enable Māori landowners to use their whenua, according to their needs and aspirations, as suggested by the review committee? 

First of all, let’s be clear – discussions on Māori land reform must have Māori at the centre. Conversations cloaked in partisanship or that centre Pākehā voices overlook the Māori context and often fuse our diverse perspectives into one.

In July 2015, I wrote about Te Ture Whenua Māori reforms during the nationwide consultation phase: Part 1: Te Ture Whenua Māori Reforms & Part 2: Te Ture Whenua Māori Reforms. However, since then a number of significant changes have been made to the exposure draft. In brief, those changes include:

  • Option for existing Māori trusts and incorporations to continue as the same entity they are now (i.e. do not need to go through cost of establishing a rangatōpu).
  • Removal of the managing kaiwhakarite provision;
  • Revision of the purpose and principles sections to better reflect the preamble of the existing Act;
  • Option for Whānau to obtain succession to land instead of having to form a whānau trust on intestate succession; and
  • Greater discretion accorded to the Māori Land Court when considering applications to remove the status of Māori freehold land (i.e. transfer from Māori to general).

We won’t know precisely what all the changes are until the Bill is introduced to the House around March 2016. What we can surmise is that the Review Committee has taken into account the concerns of submitters.

One of the arguments I see a lot is that the reforms will enable Māori landowners to transfer their land into general title more easily to sell off. Frankly, if that is how Māori landowners wish to deal with their land, that is their choice – whether we like it or not. However, given only about 4.75% of all the land in this country is dedicated Māori land, the presumption of an impending mass sell-off following the reforms reads more like partisan hyperbole than informed opinion.

Why?

Firstly, the Māori Land Court will retain oversight to ensure any sale or transfer is done in the spirit of Te Tiriti in order to protect and retain Māori land.

Secondly, in my experience, whānau who are considering selling, are often looking at selling their shares to those within the collective or to those with a whakapapa connection to the land block. Often the arguments insist that no Māori should ever sell their land. That is over-simplistic and is as much a constraint on our rangatiratanga over our land as the arguments they are opposing. Additionally, it ignores the reasons whānau may wish to sell their shares in land, for example, to obtain the capital necessary for home ownership. Getting finance to build on Māori land also requires a license to occupy so sometimes it might be in the interest of a whānau to sell their shares in their Māori land, and use the proceeds to build on general land, or to build on another piece of Māori land where they do have a license to occupy.

Thirdly, there is a preferred recipient tender included in the reforms. This means that there is a first right of refusal to Māori with a relevant connection to the land.

And lastly, contrary to what many are suggesting, the thresholds for sale or transfer have not been reduced – they are exactly the same as the thresholds in the existing act, and include the right of landowners to increase that threshold if they wish to do so.

A bugbear of mine is when commentators are vague and use language like:

The reality however is that the land will simply be opened up to those wishing to exploit the new lax regulations…All these changes will do is make it easier to sell that Maori land, not grow it

Here, the commentator avoids centering Māori as the affected party, pushing an agenda that does not serve Māori interests in land, but rather asserts his own interest in his own ideology. In the process, painting the landowners he speaks of wanting to protect as the greedy grubby little neo-liberals that he rejects. Remember, it is Māori land, meaning only Māori can decide how they will use it. If selling is their preferred option, then that is ultimately the decision of the Māori landowner subject to the prescribed process.

Another criticism made centres around the lack of funding available to assist Māori to develop our land. This is misinformed as there are a number of funding streams available to help Māori landowners collectively and individually including Māori homeowners on general land, to address their needs. For a detailed breakdown see the Māori Housing Network Investment Strategy and KiwiBank’s Kāinga Whenua loans scheme.

In Vote Māori 2015 the Government announced:

  • a total of over $7 million to improve housing outcomes for Māori by providing practical assistance to whānau and Māori housing projects
  • a total of $7 million for Māori Housing development
  • a total of over $3 million to assist Māori land owners improve the productivity of their land

The Minister of Māori Development explained that this means there is $8.8 million per annum for Māori housing in addition to the existing funding of around $7.5 million per annum, bringing the total amount to $16.2 million per annum in 2018-19. He also announced a new fund of $12.8 million over 4 years to help Māori landowners improve the utilisation of their land and a further $3.2 million per annum to support targeted initiatives in areas where land is significantly underutilised.

I am not suggesting that these measures are a full solution to meeting Māori housing and land use needs and aspirations. Nor am I suggesting that the reforms are immune from criticism. I just think they provide an avenue for Māori to achieve rangatiratanga over our land. Our identities as Māori are linked to our whenua, and as current or prospective Māori landowners it is our voices and our perspectives that matter in these reforms. The proposed Māori land reforms are practical measures not ideological ones. There are multiple issues to consider and many whānau in many different situations so it is vitally important that we are properly informed about what is proposed and what those changes will mean for us and for our land.

On the margins of our housing market

By Nicola Eccleton

Murdoch_RemovalMen

Image: Sharon Murdoch (Twitter: @domesticanimal) “The Removal Men”

The people I encounter are on the margins of our housing market. Usually single, usually with children, usually with very little hope of owning their own home in the short to medium-term, they rely on being able to rent a home from private landlords in a post-earthquake Christchurch in which public housing is a pipe dream. Private landlords who have the choice to rent to young professionals on a good wage or a mother with three preschool children, a limited income and a chequered credit history will, nine times out of ten, choose the professionals. When the mother is finally offered a house with mouldy curtains and mould on the walls, she thanks her lucky stars and pays the extortionate rent knowing that she can get foodbank parcels or Work and Income vouchers for food. This is the market in action.

We know it’s not working. The government spends millions propping up demand through subsidies (both directly e.g. Accommodation Supplement, and indirectly e.g. Working for Families), as well as entering the supply side in the form of public housing, yet we remain hell bent on maintaining the market as our primary mechanism for providing houses. Property remains an attractive investment for those wishing to make a quick buck by providing someone a home, with less requirement to provide a decent product than the local restaurant. We invest heavily in a system that is not providing adequate returns.

The narrative needs to be overhauled as much as the policies do. “Government can’t touch this because people will lose their equity” needs to read “Government is already touching this” and “You over-extended in a market you knew was over-valued and it is not the role of government to guarantee your risk.” This sounds really harsh. Maybe it is. Yes I am a homeowner. But the current narrative is based on a market that works only one way; it should be left to its own devices because it is the best mechanism for determining value, however we need to ensure values don’t slip. Landlords are not the same as home owners – the difference between requiring a house to live in and requiring a house to provide a return, is a key driver of price increases.

I’m a sucker for some genuine turn-it-on-its-head type thinking; expanding and exploring as many different ways of doing things as we can. Can we learn from Singapore, minus the benevolent dictatorship? What can we learn from the Netherlands where in some cities, a form of social housing comprises more than half of the total accommodation? We have a fairly successful model of parallel provision in healthcare – maybe this could offer some insight into how Government and the private sector provides both rental properties and properties for sale? This is not a specialty area for me, but from what I know about policy-making, this has all been discussed before. The trouble is, we haven’t figured it out yet. Many successive governments have failed us with their substandard policies. Labour’s Kiwibuild is closer to the type of re-think that we need and was, in my opinion, the standout policy from Labour’s last campaign.

When we require the existing level of state subsidies, we should stop pretending that the property ‘market’ in its current form, is not just an elaborate charade. When our most vulnerable are suffering at the margins, we should stop stalling and start being genuine about our commitment to the solution.

 

 

Homelessness

By Carrie Stoddart-Smith

VIdeo: Homeless By Streets of Laredo

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A recent project to gain an insight into the experiences of rough sleeping found that while many homeless individuals considered it their choice to sleep rough, the concept of choice was itself much more complex. Often the circumstances that triggered people onto the streets were such that there was no choice. Rather, there were no other options.

At the beginning of the month, I spent two days at a Matariki wananga for the Homeless. Initially, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wondered how many people would show up and didn’t know if their needs would be met. But being part of the wananga provided me with a much needed personal perspective. It reminded me of how comfortable I had become in my educated middle class way of life. The creature comforts I’ve now come to enjoy had all but erased my connection to and memory of growing up with very little, as well as struggling with my identity as a wahine Māori in Te Ao Pākehā.

Upon arrival at the Marae, many appeared visibly anxious and understandably so. But after some kai (food) and korero (discussion), like lifting a veil, the wairua (spirit) of the room changed completely. This moment reinforced for me why being Māori and living by Māori values is so important for addressing the shortcomings of modern society.  Tikanga Māori works to bring people together by restoring balance. The simple notion of sharing a meal is the means by which we are reminded that we are equals and we should all value ourselves and others as such.

The process of whakawhanaungatanga brought cheer to people’s faces as they played a board game, joined in on waiata, or simply enjoyed a conversation – as an equal. I watched as people achieved spiritual relief from the Kaumatua and Kuia who were able to help them with their whakapapa and the glow from realising we are all connected. The value of cultural identity. Observing the principle of manaakitanga in action, through the multitude of volunteers who showed generosity and care for our homeless whānau through the provision of food, health services, and haircuts and treating our homeless whānau with the dignity they deserved. As people and not parasites. However, the heart break as each day came to an end and the cold wintry hands of homelessness were waiting to greet our whānau each evening as I prepared to return to my own safe, secure haven is etched very deeply into my mind.

I left wondering how many times have I walked past a homeless person on the street and avoided eye contact so I didn’t have to acknowledge that person’s existence?

Shamefully, I have done this more times than I can count. I am reminded in this moment of the many privileges I possess. More importantly, I’m reminded that identifying as Māori comes with much responsibility – the duty to ensure that I am actively practicing my values and not simply talking about them on a blog. Because in watching those moments of joy on the faces of people I’d cast adrift as faceless and nameless in the past, I was forced to confront my own inhumanity.

Homelessness is complex and will require a cross-sectoral approach that is steered by homeless persons to identify their needs and aspirations. There are people doing great work already with our the homeless, and there are initiatives in place that are giving some hope and providing opportunity to our whānau who find themselves on the street. But please remember, that choice is complex. People are on the streets for a variety of reasons, some of those reasons more horrid than you could possibly imagine.

My plea is simple: next time you see a homeless person on the street, try say Kia ora or Hello. Perhaps try strike up a conversation. Acknowledge their existence in a positive form. Of course not all people will want to speak with you and some may react with a great deal of apprehension. Be mindful, that reaction is a result of being treated like a parasite day in and day out. Your gesture won’t solve homelessness, but a small measure of goodwill may perhaps bring a moment of joy to a person’s day.

The half Labour got right and the half they got wrong

By Chuan-Zheng Lee

I get that racism stirs emotions, but I try to give attempts at statistical analyses a fair hearing. About half of the work released by Labour on Saturday is actually sound. This half is also the half that has received the most criticism. Bayesian inference is a perfectly good means of developing probabilistic models about things like “based on their name, of what ethnicity is this person?” Reading Rob Salmond’s explanation of it yesterday, there’s nothing obviously untoward about this part of their methodology. I know a lot of people have felt offended about an apparent conflation of last name with role in the housing market, but strictly speaking, Labour’s analysis doesn’t imply it.

In statistical jargon, what Mr Salmond’s Bayesian analysis computes is an expectation (over Bayesian probabilities) of the number of buyers of each ethnicity, among those who bought a house between February and April with an unidentified agency representing 45% of the market in that period. You can think of this as, “if you picked 3,922 people with these surnames but otherwise at random, and repeated this experiment lots of times, on average, any such 3,922 people would have this many of each ethnicity: 40.7% of them would be European, 39.5% of them would be Chinese,” and so on.

If both of these two assumptions hold:

  1. The 3,922 in their data set are representative of the 8,790 who bought houses in that period.*
  2. Knowing whether someone bought a house tells you nothing statistically more about their ethnicity than their surname does. For example, a Wang who bought a house is no more or less likely to be Chinese than a Wang who did not. (In probability speak, ethnicity and buying a house are conditionally independent given one’s surname.)

then the 3,922 people in their data set are “otherwise (than surnames) at random” for the purposes of determining the ethnicity of house buyers in Auckland between February and April.

Even intuitively, this should look fine. Whenever we see names before faces, we’ll often make guesses about ethnicity based on last name. Sometimes we’ll be wrong—for example, someone in an interracial marriage who changed her last name—but the odd error doesn’t stop us from guessing. We keep doing this because it’s a fairly good heuristic. If you think you don’t guess ethnicities based on names, I politely suggest that you ask yourself again.

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Where, then, did Labour go so horribly wrong? In pretty much all of the other half, the part where they tried to make the leap from ethnicity to residency.

Here are Phil Twyford’s and Mr Salmond’s claims, emphasis added:

  1. “39.5% of the Auckland houses sold went to people who appear to be ethnically Chinese. This is a large discrepancy from the 9% of the Auckland population who are ethnically Chinese.” (ref)
  2. “It’s staggering evidence that strongly suggests there’s a significant offshore Chinese presence in the Auckland real estate market. It could not possibly be all Chinese New Zealanders buying; that’s implausible.” (ref)

Claim 1 follows from the Bayesian analysis and it’s fine. Claim 2, however, is useless. Depending on how you read it, the italicised part is either trivially true or flatly wrong.

If he meant it literally, as in, you only need to find one Chinese foreigner to prove him right, then that’s obviously true but meaningless (i.e., trivially true). Presumably what he actually meant is that it’s implausible that claim 1 can be explained by anything other than a “significant offshore Chinese presence”. Not just unlikely, but implausible.

Yet, despite the rigour involved in arriving at claim 1, neither Mr Twyford nor Mr Salmond give any precision to what they mean by “implausible”. To me, this means some very high posterior probability (if you’re a Bayesian), like 0.999 or something, or some extraordinarily low p-value (if you’re a frequentist), like 0.001 (well below the typical 0.05). But maybe they had something else in mind, and that’s okay. They also neglected to specify what they meant by “significant”—say, “enough to affect prices”, or “comprises 10% of the market”.

Now, I know what they’ll say. It’s not possible to quantify this sort of hypothesis. Well, firstly, it is: I just did, in two different ways. They might not have the data to reach that criterion, but that’s another matter. Secondly, that’s no excuse for the sort of magic trick they performed, especially if the claim is that something is “implausible”. If we want to give useful political sound-bites, at least keep to “it merits further investigation” or something like that. That’s defensible. The sweeping statement Mr Twyford paraded on Saturday is not.

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The leap from claim 1 to claim 2 that Messrs Twyford and Salmond made requires an implicit assumption. You have to believe that the propensity of a resident to buy a house is roughly independent of ethnicity. That is, ethnically-Chinese residents are just as likely to buy a house as Indian, European, Māori, Pasifika and other residents.

Keith Ng and Thomas Lumley, among others, have offered plenty of reasons to believe this assumption might be false. Maybe recent migrants tend to buy houses and have cash, for example. Maybe Chinese just prefer real estate to stocks, tend to save more, move more often, get more help from their parents. There are all sorts of hypotheses that Labour failed to rule out.

In response, Mr Salmond tried to address two of them with a comparison between the resident Chinese and resident Indian populations. Even this, though, only “contra-indicates” at most two such explanations (relating to recent migrants), and at best in a way that suggests they can’t be responsible for the whole difference between 39.5% and 9%. Here’s the thing though: with so many variables and alternative hypotheses, it could easily be that all of them are responsible, each in a small way, that add up to the difference observed in claim 1. And, to be sure, there might also be an “offshore Chinese presence” somewhere in there too. The problem is that we don’t know, based on this data set, what it is. For this reason, it’s perfectly “plausible” that the “offshore Chinese presence” Mr Twyford asserts is not “significant” (whatever that means).

Is it a tall ask for Labour to rule out all alternative explanations in combination? Yes, of course it is. And that is precisely the point: there are too many competing explanations for the metric Labour have used—ethnicity—to tell us anything useful about residency. The root problem is that Labour’s analysis doesn’t measure residency. It measures ethnicity. As Professor Lumley put it:

If you have a measure of ‘foreign real estate ownership’ that includes my next-door neighbours and excludes James Cameron, you’re doing it wrong, and in a way that has a long and reprehensible political history.

It may be frustrating for Labour to find the data it wants, but that doesn’t entitle them to present a half-baked “analysis” to try to back claims that Chinese foreigners are responsible for soaring house prices. And this is putting aside the artificial restriction of housing supply through zoning and height restrictions, and a continued concerning tendency for Labour to talk a lot about Chinese people and not very much about Canadian, British and American foreign investors.


* Even if they’re not, it’s worth noting that 45% is such a large share of the whole market that even if every ethnically-Chinese buyer used this agency, there would still be an overrepresentation of ethnic Chinese.^