Tuesday, 30 July 2013

housing policy becomes a race debate

i'm once again moved to write about non-local government issues, & the thing that has got me going is the new labour party policy regarding the restriction on property ownership by non-residents.

i'm not opposed to the policy itself.  i'd be happy to have such restrictions, to put a curb on speculation by people who never intend to live here.  those people come from countries around the world, they often have enough wealth to drive prices up & making owning a home unaffordable for those of us who are living here.

i'd also like to see some restrictions on local speculators as well.  a capital gains tax is a start, but won't make much of a difference to house prices.  getting to keep 85% of your capital gain is still makes ownership of rental properties a good option.  i'd also like to see ring-fencing of losses on rental properties, so that the loss can't be offset against other income.  but no party is pushing that as a policy at the moment, at least no that i'm aware of.

no, the thing that has annoyed me about the non-resident ownership policy is that it becomes an excuse to bash immigrants - even though the policy is specifically not targeted at immigrants.  and even for those who understand that difference, there is still a tendency to focus on asians to the exclusion of others.

i've written before about the notion of visible & invisible migrants - it's something i became aware of through research conducted by some friends of mine at waikato university.  visible migrants are those of a different skin colour, and very often, the terms "immigrant" & "migrant" are used as synonyms for people of colour living in this country, other than maori.  and even in that group, the terms are even more specifically used to refer to asians, africans, & those from the middle east.

invisible migrants tend to be white people from europe, canada, america, britain, australia & africa (especially south africa & zimbabwe).  when people use the terms "immigrant" & "migrant", they tend not to mean this group of people (not everyone, but many people).  and so this policy, though it applies to non-residents, is taken to mean predominantly chinese & other asian people.  even though they aren't specifically targeted by the policy.

it doesn't help that there are no concrete statistics so that we can know the parts of the world that current non-resident owners come from.  in the absence of actual data, stereotypes prevail.  and such stereotypes are exacerbated by an opposition that wants to turn the whole debate into one about race instead of one about housing, to hide the fact that they have very few policies aimed at making housing more affordable.

as a result, what i've seen, particularly on facebook, are comments directed at various asians, be they chinese, japanese, indonesian or thai, & none of those comments are particularly flattering.  even if they are neutral, the fact that asian non-resident owners are being identified while white non-resident owners remain invisible, in itself creates a racial dimension that is unnecessary & in face harmful.

i believe facebook pages are the responsibility of the people who created them, & i really do expect politicians to be strong on challenging racial stereotypes and challenging the process of making some non-residents more visible than others on their own pages.  to be silent is to be accepting, especially when it's a space that you have total control of.  strong leadership can certainly help to reduce some of the nonsense that's coming out as the discussion goes on - it can't be stopped altogether, but it certainly can be reduced.

it's the least we should be expecting.


Alarm said...

I really don't understand how you can support this policy.

It's not as if we don't already do enough to make immigrants unwelcome without telling them "Oh and you can't buy a house:.

And no, it will affect white immigrants too, but that is no comfort to the Chinese or Middle Eastern people who will suffer.

stargazer said...

You've completely misunderstood the policy. It doesn't stop immigrants from owning houses at all. It's aimed at non-residents ie people who have no intention of living here.

You've also missed the central point of my post ie that although the policy applies equally to non-residents of all races & nationalities, the conversations about it are tending to focus only on some, in a way that is clearly racist.