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Retirement watchdog warns of home ownership 'disaster'

Published: 6:44PM Thursday November 29, 2012 Source: ONE News

The outgoing Retirement Commissioner has taken a big swipe at New Zealand's politicians for failing to address falling home ownership rates in this country.

Diana Crossan retires next month after 10 years in the job and she is warning that there is a complete lack of leadership on the issue.

Crossan has been a tireless advocate for raising savings and awareness about retirement. But it is the issue of housing affordability and a feeling that people in power are doing nothing about it that is bothering her.

A mortgage-free home in retirement has been the Kiwi dream since the 1950s, however the retirement watchdog fears that dream is slipping away.

"If we look at the 30 and 40-year-olds who can't afford homes, we are heading for disaster unless we do something about it," Crossan told ONE News political editor Corin Dann.

In the early 1990s around 75% of people owned the home they lived in. However that is now down to around 65% and expected to fall further.

It is a trend that is likely to see many more Kiwis forced to rent in retirement.

"The people in hardship in New Zealand - and fortunately we have very few of them - are mostly renters. Renting for 20 and 30 years after you've finished your job is really hard if you haven't got a lot of money stacked away," Crossan said.

Both National and Labour have produced policies recently aimed at making homes more affordable for first home buyers.

However Crossan does not believe either party's policies will make much difference.

"They are small plans. But in terms of long-term leadership on this issue I haven't seen that," she said.

Asked why that is, she said: "I don't know. I think it's partly because the Ministry of Building has been merged into a large department. We haven't seen leadership really in this area for a while."

Acting Finance Minister Steven Joyce is mystified by Crossan's comments.

"I don't know where she is coming from on that at all. This government has had a very comprehensive response to housing affordability issues," Joyce said.

Labour accepts it is not blameless, having governed during the housing boom but the party claims to have changed.

"We need to have government with their hands on the levers, making things happen for Kiwis," said housing spokesperson Annette King.

"For too long we thought the market would decide these things. The market's failed us."

Without action, Crossan believes we will see rising conflict between home-owning baby boomers and a generation of younger Kiwis, who are locked out.