8 Jun 2015

Home ownership issues 'a looming problem'

6:07 am on 8 June 2015

As Aucklanders and many others around the country struggle with the over-heating house market, there are fears those being shut out of the market now could feel the financial effects for their entire lives.

Researchers fear that increasing poverty among those in retirement will put more pressure on future governments already grappling with increasing superannuation costs.

Sold house in Auckland

Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Jan Mason, 67, has lived on Auckland's North Shore for 30 years and works three days a week in a local bookshop.

While she receives New Zealand Super, she told Insight she still had to work to pay the bills.

"I live in Devonport, I bought here when you could buy houses for next to nothing ... you'd laugh. I love the community here but the rates are going to prove too difficult for me to manage if I'm not working," she said.

Even though Ms Mason struggles, she feels lucky to own her own home.

NZ Super is calculated on the assumption that the recipient owns their own home: those who rent are often left with very little to spare.

Max Rashbrooke, Victoria University research associate and author on inequality issues, said declining home ownership would have consequences for future retirees.

"So what we're going to see in the next 10 or 20 years, if nothing is done about it, is a lot more people coming into retirement not owning their own homes and then our rates of pensioner poverty are really going to shoot up.

"That's a looming problem that no one is really grappling with," he said.

Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell is also concerned that the super-heated housing market means more and more younger people were just not making it to the first rung on the housing ladder.

"The single biggest thing you can do for a great outcome in retirement is have bought your own home and be mortgage-free," she said.

"What's worrying me with declining home ownership is a mortgage might be painful, but it's a really great discipline. In your twenties and thirties, if you own a property you tend to pump a whole heap of cash into that mortgage because you have to," she added.

University of Auckland's Retirement Policy and Research Centre co-director Michael Littlewood said there was lack of clear data on home ownership, so the scale of the current problem might be overlooked.

"Census data has huge holes in it, so one-fifth of all dwellings in New Zealand are missing from that information. So when people say home ownership is falling all we really can say is, of those people who report details the proportion is falling," he said.

Alternative saving schemes

Ms Maxwell said renters who felt shut out of the property market were less likely to save and she wanted to see new savings schemes created for long-term renters.

"It would be an alternative to a mortgage. There are other ways of accumulating wealth for retirement other than owning one home or more.

"So if you are locked out of the market, look at those other ways. I would love the private sector to step up with some targeted, tailored products that position themselves exactly that way."

She planned to take her idea to banks and financial institutions and hoped they would take up the challenge.