Monday, March 14, 2016

Random thoughts on the unaffordable housing in Auckland, the narrative we tell ourselves and Jesus teaching in Luke 9:48

In Luke 9:48 as his disciples are arguing about who is the greatest Jesus places a small child in their midst as an object lesson... An tells them 'who ever welcomes this child welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For whoever is least among you all is the greatest'.

It was part of the passage that I was preaching on last sunday... But as I wrestled with this passage I couldn't help but think of the Auckland housing issues at the moment. And it was  children that bought the situation to mind... The son of friends of mine had spoken at the Auckland City Council meeting where plans for intensification were challenged and eventually voted down. He had talked of the fact that he was part of a generation that could not afford to buy a home or live in Auckland.

More than that my own daughter, who has just started University, expressed the same opinion, that she would never be able to own a house in Auckland.  The mayor of Auckland. Len Brown had been the keynote speaker at the senior prize giving at Epsom Girls Grammar last year and has spoken to the Girls and the parents who were gathered (us amongst them) about the wonders of the Auckland transport system and how it was making Auckland the most liveable city in the world... and I remember turning to my wife and saying 'he is talking to a generation of people who will not be able to afford to live here."

While the prices of Auckland houses is a complex issue. I think that the disciples quibbling over who is the greatest actually speaks to part of the issue. The story of the initial migration from the British isles to New Zealand was one of there is room for people to own their own piece of land. People came seeking a better life... now, and I'm going out on a limb here, Maori may view that in the same way as the Nazi myth of 'lebenstraum'. But that idea of providing a place for people to live and own their own home has been  an important factor in how we viewed our nation and how we planned our cities. It comes under pressure when numbers rise, what it looked like for a nation a 1 million is different than it is for a nation of four million. But that central narrative we tell ourselves has also changed.

Have you noticed instead of it being about finding a house for your family to live in that the languge we use around housing has changed? Yes we still talk of the family home... but now we have a housing market in which people invest. Now buying your first home is considered getting on the first rung of this market. Radio advertisements talk of property as a way of  wealth creation. We do have people who are talked of being in the market for short term gain. Houses are thought of as investment properties. We live in rented accommodation so we appreciate those who have bought such houses. However it has changed the basic story we tell ourselves as a nation. That we first and foremost are about having a place of our own to raise our family...not raise ur wealth. People move a lot more than they did as well wanting to move to a better and better suburb a more up market address, and it means that pressure is put on housing stock and house prices all over follow that demand on houses in the leafy suburbs up as well. It means that communities become more transient as well. Instead of everyone having a home it becomes... more, greater better, richer... Moves to make more houses and intensify our land use become threats to the value of our property instead of wanting to see everyone housed well... well at least housed.

We have lost the Kiwi ideal of egalitarianism, maybe that was a myth in the fist place? An like with Jesus teaching its only when a child, usually our own comes into view do we realise the great cost of this change of narrative.

Jesus teaching about welcoming a child and that the least will be the greatest is helpful in addressing that new narrative of wealth creation. To see the least as the greatest is to see all people as important and equal. It is to see the basic needs of everyone as important and being willing to settle for less so that people can have at least some.  It changes us from thinking about me, me, me to realising that as a community we have a responsibility to care for those who do not have. It changes our narrative back from property market to making room for people.

However, I also think that it is important that we realise that what we are seeing now is a worldwide issue. It is the fact that the western dream or expectation of successive generations being able to have a higher and higher standard of living is wrong and false. That the materialistic worldview is bankrupt and its time that we started looking for new narratives for life.

Christians should be involved in the housing debate. Calling for change and reform, speaking out about intensification and looking at alternative ways of getting people in to houses. But I also feel we need to challenge the very core of the idea of single family dwellings being as well.

Futurist Tom Sine wrote an interesting article in the book 'new monasticism as fresh expressions of Church' comments
"I am concerned that our one single family housing model in the West is not only unsustainable environmentally but economically as well- particularly for growing numbers of the middle class young. Unfortunately, few of those who work with university age young are informing them that many of them will be among the first of the post World War 2 generations whose lifestyles will not exceed that of their parents. Further, the young need to be informed that if they attempt to purchase houses like those they were raised in they will come ayt a very dear price, foreclosing other life options.

let me explain what has happened. few of us in the silent generation (born 1925-1945) spent much over 20 per cent of one income on rent or mortgages. Of course houses were smaller when we seniors started our lives but those same houses are not inexpensive today. Many of this generation will spend over 40 to 45 percent of two incomes for the purchase of a single family house....

....he comments that this is even higher if people wanted to buy an apartment in the central city...He continues.

"AS the Christian young launch their lives, wouldn't it make sense to make them aware of a broader array of options, including residential communities, which offer more sustainable lifestyles at a lss expensive price?"

I want my kids to be able to afford to live as their parents and grandparents have but also I am aware that as Christians we have become happy and domesticated in our materialistic western worldview and maybe as the narrative our society tells itself becomes less and less based on Christian values we need to encourage them to live a different narrative. I wonder if the idea of churches with communities attached like the old monastic movement isn't one possibility. Mixed housing for families and singles. sharing resources, committed to working in a certain locality or attached to a particular church. committed not to who is the greatest but raising the least ups to God....   

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