Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Sorry, folks. Housing is not a right.


Housing is not a right. In the midst of a housing crisis, it's easy to sympathise with folk who argue that it is a right -- but attempting to make it one, in defiance of logic, will only further abrogate the real rights whose violation has caused the crisis they rightly bemoan.

There is a pattern here: a misunderstanding of the nature of rights that has been helping to wipe out real rights -- and diminishing the possibility of fixing the problem those folk would like to solve. 

So how come housing isn't a right? 'What actually is a right?' I hear you ask. Fair question: A right is a moral sanction to your freedom of action in a social context -- your right to  pursue the actions necessary for you an loved ones to survive and to flourish; your right to speak out and speak up; your right to make your own choices, to bear the consequences of your own mistakes -- and to keep whatever new values that your actions have produced (this last, your right to property, is a consequence of the first: your right to life). 

Simply put then,  your right to action is a contextual absolute that gives you the moral space in which to pursue your own values without treading on the toes of other people's equal right to do their own thing in their chosen way. Because, since everyone is morally equal (and rightly equal before the law) everyone does have that same equal right.

So rights pertain to actions (and to keeping the consequences of your actions). But what happens if the Grey Ones pass a law giving you the right to stuff -- stuff like land, food, flat-screen TV ... or a house. The problem here is that someone else has to take all the actions necessary to make that stuff. To make a house. And if well-meaning folk in Wellington simply pass a law giving you the right to that stuff, then that logically makes those people building the stuff your legally-bound slaves -- because if the law demands that you have to have it by right -- if a law says you have a right to a house, say -- then that same law requires that they have to give it to you.

And it's not like building a house is easy work anyway. What's even worse is that taking all the actions you need to build a house these days have been getting harder and harder, and it's all been getting harder precisely because real rights like the right to property have been steadily eroded

That's been the worst thing about the Resource Management Act (RMA), under which housing in this broad green land has been made the province only of the well-endowed: that in all its several-hundred pages of turgid legalese, there is neither mention of nor legal support for the property rights of land-owners. The result has been to pass the power of decision about land-use to pimply-faced planners, making using that land as difficult as saddling a passing unicorn.

And the worst thing about the Building Act is that, even if the planners do relent, it's been made increasingly harder for anyone to take the actions necessary to build anything at all, let alone anything affordable -- the “regulatory wall” of box-ticking has made innovation rare, inexpensive foreign materials illegal, and cost-saving innovative building systems damned difficult to use. Building ties now have more people on them to do much less than they ever did, even as licensing laws and a knackered apprenticeship system, has made it harder to get a qualified builder on your job. 

Only six decades ago, a future Prime Minister built his own house, in his spare time (and, unlike many built by so-called licensed builders, survived recent earthquakes); yet now it's all but impossible even to build a Tiny House on land that you rightfully own -- let alone is it possible for  spec builders to profitably flood our cities with houses as they once did, way back before these two Acts when the median price of a house in our cities was just three-to-four times the median annual salary, not the double-digit multiple it is now!

Housing is not a right -- but it is right to demand our property rights back, so that land-owners could make their own decisions about how many Sleep-Outs or Tiny Houses they have on their own land, and spec builders could get on again with flooding our cities with homes.  

I said earlier there's a pattern here, and there is: of bogus rights taking over from (and eroding) real rights. In passing so-called Hate-Speech laws, a non-existent "right" not to be offended will help destroy a genuine right to Free Speech. In misunderstanding the right to Free Speech, even so-called free speech advocates have helped to diminish the rights of property owners to make their own decisions about who speaks at their place. In passing laws designed to protect a so-called "right" to privacy, law-makers have helped to undermine genuine rights to property and contract. And in giving "rights" to people and planners to complain about what other people do on their own land, we've been undermining real property rights and turning a housing problem into a genuine housing crisis. 

The solution is not to continue this demolition of individual and property rights. It's to protect them. Properly, this time.


  1. That's a great explanation; but for a casual discussion with your man in the street, perhaps still a bit too long and conceptual.

    Here's my attempt at a more abbreviated and simpler version. I welcome any critique of essential components I may be missing:

    "A right is the freedom to act, or the ability to enforce an agreement – provided you’re not interfering with the rights of others.

    For instance I have a right to free speech, provided I’m not demanding you use your own resources to broadcast my views.

    Or the right to demand you pay for something I provide you, if you entered into an agreement to purchase it from me.

    It’s not the ability to demand someone provide you with something you need. Being important, and being a right are not the same thing.

    Housing is important, and may be even be necessary for survival, but it’s not a right."

  2. I freely concede that my attempt was too long-winded, and I bow to your brevity.

    1. No mate, I wasn't saying it was long-winded. Perfect for this forum. I'm just attempting to abbreviate it to something I can use in a casual discussion with those more concrete bound than us, that requires absolute brevity or the point gets lost.

  3. Brevity and reality. In the new socialist State of New Zealand the property owner will have few or no rights, even if they exist in law. The State appoints the Judges. Try enforcing a tenancy agreement/contract and see how you get on in New Zealand

  4. Well rights and civil liberties don't seem to exist in Labour's quest to fix societal inequalities and raise lower classes. So expect the erosion to continue .


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