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Increased competition for a limited number of rental properties has driven up prices, sparking a crisis in the Wellington market.
Students have been forced to offer more than advertised on listings to secure substandard accommodation.
Kerry Foster, an Architecture Student at Victoria University, outlined the difficulty in finding a flat while competing with other prospective tenants.
“In total I had ten viewings, about twice as many rejections, and twice that in still-unread messages. […] I’ve viewed places with broken windows, no windows, mouldy (black) ceilings, damp rooms, cold rooms, 20 minute bus rides away.”
Another student affected by the renting crisis managed to secure a low-quality flat in the second week of February, for which she pays $190 per week. The rent on the property has increased annually despite no improvements being undertaken. “I talked to the old tenants and they said they paid $170 and the flatters before them paid $150.”
VUWSA President Rory Lenihan-Ikin said that this year “students are simply desperate to secure something. Landlords and rental agents hold all the power, which is even forcing bidding wars between students.”
VUWSA’s Welfare Vice-President, Anya Maule, said the VUWSA Advocacy Services have been contacted by numerous students seeking accommodation support.
She expressed her concern for students signing up for “flats that may be an earthquake risk, or where the landlord had not done sufficient maintenance.” Maule said the quality of some available flats was “appalling,” citing cases of properties which were cold and damp, infested with fleas, or had inadequate plumbing.
“A number of students […] feel desperate and they’re prepared to take whatever’s available.”
Maule also highlighted the academic impact of the rental situation. “Students moving frequently and having to stay with friends could cause stress and uncertainty.”
Grant Guilford, Victoria University’s Vice-Chancellor, urged students experiencing difficulties to contact the university’s accommodation services.
He stated that “all student cities face difficulties in providing student accommodation that is appropriately costed and close to university campuses — the problem is not unique to Wellington.”
He added that the university is “conscious of the stress the situation places on students and [is] committed to working with other agencies, including the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency and local councils, to ensure there are adequate, good quality housing options for our students.”
Employment and tenancy statistics show Wellington rents are increasing faster than wages, at 8.3 per cent compared with wage growth of just over one per cent. Potential first home buyers are staying longer in rentals, impacting supply, while the influx of students prior to the start of university has boosted demand.
Rising enrolment numbers and a tendency to avoid high-rise apartments after the November earthquakes are also adding to the issue.
Nigel Jeffries, head of Trade Me Property, said listings on Trade Me Property were down 70 per cent from last year.
Economist and author Shamubeel Eaqub said Wellington rent increases are at a level not seen since 2007-2008. “Rents are rising really quite rapidly now, […] in Wellington it’s becoming really unaffordable.”
Eaqub believes that housing should be a major issue in this year’s general election campaign. He asserts that recent governments have “failed on housing in every imaginable way.”
“We must make this the number one issue and it is the biggest problem that faces New Zealand society today.”