Reality show symptom of property market problems

In the TVNZ series Our First Home, parents buy a property for their children and they all renovate it together.

The house is then sold, to use the profit as a deposit for the children's first home.

We, meanwhile, watch wondering whether this process of making already unaffordable homes more unaffordable will finally allow these young people to get a place of their own.

Last week, in response to a question about housing, Prime Minister John Key told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report, ''I don't think you can call it a crisis''.

Yet, the reality in our cities - alongside the reality of our reality TV programmes - suggests there is little else to call it.

In Auckland, the median house price is 8.2 times the median annual household income. Even in Dunedin, one of New Zealand's most affordable cities, the figure is 4.6, making owning a home out of reach for many.

Our First Home offers what seems like a reasonable solution to those trying to get into the housing market - speculate on property in order to get property - one that would be appealing were it not so manifestly absurd.

The programme is an index of the failure of politics to address the problems young people face in the housing market.

There are political measures that would really help them to get into their own homes, such as mandating more affordable new builds and taking the incentives out of property speculation.

Better new entrant wages, reversing the trend to casual labour and the end of student loans would make lasting differences, too.

Yet, these are all somehow less real than using your parents' money to compete in a reality TV show in which you make money by speculating and flipping property, before buying your own home.

Where would the young people in the programme go to resolve the problems they face in this, the real world, rather than that, the fantasy one?

It is clear they would not go to the ballot box, as their parents and their grandparents did.

Politicians of all stripes have abandoned young people's interests: Labour has given up its capital gains tax policy, while National and Act favour loosening urban limits so everyone can enjoy the social, cultural, and economic benefits of urban sprawl.

In an era when variants of ''leave it to the market'' make up the majority of the political debate, it is hard to imagine any political party intervening with the property market to the advantage of those who do not own their own homes.

Everyone has a theory about why so many young people do not vote, but Our First Home is almost all the evidence we need.

The political and social circumstances that allow for such a programme are the same ones that have seen a whole generation drop out of electoral participation.

Only a little more than 60% of enrolled 18 to 30-year-olds voted in the last election, compared with more than 85% of enrolled voters over 60.

It is not apathy that is stopping young people - they care deeply about the world in which they live - but resignation, as they live with the circumstances in which they find themselves.

Politics in its current form has little to offer them: they know they must rely on individual solutions that rest in their own hands, rather than in collective ones.

As a result, there is a certain circularity to the problem: disempowerment breeds disengagement which breeds disempowerment.

Groups of people who do not participate in the political process lose the capacity to have their needs catered for.

At the same time, those whose needs are ignored are the least likely to participate.

The decline in voting among young people is counter to their interests, as we observe in the failure of the political system to address the housing crisis, but neither the decline nor the crisis are likely to be addressed in the current environment.

Putting an end to the world that created Our First Home will take much more than a few technical fixes.

At the very least, we must put an end to the sanguine belief the market will simply fix the problem.

Intervention is needed, both expanding supply and dampening demand. More than that, the generational experiences of young people must not be discounted, even if they are not making it to the polls - they are not voting because of these experiences.

But that is a longer project of listening and caring, one that is not taking place right now.

After all, there is no crisis, and the winners of Our First Home made $190,000 off the sale of their property at auction.

Andrew Dean (26) is a Rhodes Scholar and the author of BWB Text Ruth, Roger and Me: Debts and legacies.

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