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International Homelessness: New Zealand Case Study

Emily Kingsley's picture

Al Jazeera, “New Zealand’s relentless housing crisis” (Oct. 18, 2016)

One of my goals for my independent study was to start thinking in more international terms—to highlight transnational issues and look for transnational solidarities, as Angela Davis calls for her in her book, Freedom is a Constant Struggle. Reading the Al Jazeera article posted above, I was struck by how many similarites link the US and New Zealand with regards to their current homelessness and affordable housing crises. As Alan Johnson, a Salvation Army policy analysist, observes in the article, “social security programmes were implemented in New Zealand in the 1930s, and social welfare has been a cornerstone of society, but the importance of social housing is diminishing.” This reflects very accurately what is happening in the U.S. as well as we continue to disinvest from public housing and shift instead towards partially-subsidized private housing—a trend that Housing First policies support. America’s major shortage of public housing is something discussed at length in the We Call These Projects Home report that I read earlier in the semester.

Towards the end of the article, Johnson assesses the government’s response to homelessness in New Zealand, saying: “The government appears to be taking the political consequences of homelessness seriously but it has only offered token efforts to address the worst edge of the problem.” In other words, the authorities care about how homelessness makes them look, and their motivations for ending homelessness are more political than humanitarian. This  fits the American situation, too; the government knows that homelessness does not reflect well on the state of the country, so their responses target those who are most visible—those whose removal from the streets is most politically and economically beneficial. As Craig Willse explains in his essay, “Neo-liberal biopolitics and the invention of chronic homelessness,” it was these self-serving motives that led to the development of chronic homelessness as a meaningful category and to Housing First policies aimed at getting the chronically homeless off the streets as quickly as possible.

This video, also by Al Jazeera, highlights the rapidly increasing rents that have outpaced the incomes of many New Zealanders and forced them to move into cars, garages, or other forms of temporary shelter. This pattern of rising rents and stagnant incomes leading to mass homelessness is reflected in the U.S., too.

It is also really important to point out that the New Zealand housing crisis is disproportionately affecting people of color, more specifically, Maori and Pacific Islanders. We see this in the U.S. too, where Black people have been continually exposed to discriminatory housing and also weathered the most extreme impacts from the 2008 housing crisis*. It is important to see how these racial dynamics of housing injustice play out internationally—how white supremacy and capitalism function hand-in-hand around the globe.

*This article talks about about the racial dynamis of homelessness in America: