OPINION: Dire Housing Shouldn’t Be A Right Of Passage

Consuming instant noodles and emptying the dehumidifier has become part of a New Zealand students’ daily routine. Many of us are having to choose between rent and food each week, despite both being essentials. The reality of the housing crisis in New Zealand, especially among students, means that this is sadly relatable for thousands of people across the country.

Wellington specifically is becoming known as an unaffordable and increasingly unlivable city for renters and students alike. The housing crisis continues to dampen my spirits, as well as my already mouldy ceiling. I get a little too excited when I find a two dollar coin under my bed, as it means I might be able to afford rent this week.

Heating the house in New Zealand’s coolest little capital often winds down to filling up piles of hot water bottles and covering oneself in blankets, as countless students do not have heat pumps in their houses. It is as if the healthy homes guarantee does not apply to us, landlords purposely rent out the shittiest flats as places ‘perfect for students,’ because they know that no one else could ever bear to live in a hellhole of mould, tiny rooms, and instant noodles.

I can vividly recall combining bleach with dish soap and hot water in a desperate attempt to mop the mould off my ceiling in my last flat for an upcoming flat inspection. It took upwards of three hours to clean. Of course, the mould came back, worse than ever before. The landlord shrugged alongside fellow tenants. Spots of mould crept up the windowsill, out the door (which, for the record, didn’t shut properly) until the entire place looked like an abandoned building. The window never closed properly; after it rained, my room was akin to a scene from the titanic.

I chuckled to myself, “that’s the reality of renting in Wellington.”

And I wasn’t wrong.

The concept of the starving, broke student, one who lives off ready meals like two-minute noodles or instant rice, is all too familiar for some. None of us wear that badge with honour — the reality is, renting whilst being a full-time student with a minimum wage part-time job is tough. It is often hard to pay the bills and have the income to be able to acquire even the most basic of needs.

I had friends who used their lounge as a second bedroom to lower the rent. People joked about buying a car park on The Terrace and living there as the rent would be cheaper. Something about a $50 per week price tag on a car park seemed more appealing than living in a mouldy room for upwards of $200 per week, reinforcing the idea that there’s truth to every joke.

My friend said she wished she had a boyfriend so her bed would actually be warm and so her rent would be somewhat affordable — I knew from the tone of her voice that she was being serious.

Yet, the rhetoric that being a student means living off cheap, shitty food normalises, and in fact romanticizes, the idea of poverty as a right of passage to adulthood.

The hardships students undergo seem to be recognised and even laughed off societally; despite this, no tangible action is being taken to ensure student living conditions are acceptable. No action is being taken to mitigate student hardships. Young people are simply expected to live in mouldy, overpriced, uninsulated flats with no questions asked. Many will likely suffer from respiratory illnesses in the future as a result due to the constant lack of support.

Young people are the lowest on the Government’s priority list. In fact, StudyLink is known for giving students the bare minimum level of financial support. So many of us have to make a dire weekly choice between paying rent and having breakfast each morning. When we choose to have breakfast, it’s always a form of instant noodles, or a concoction of whatever’s on special, or expired, at the supermarket.

I am convinced that many political figures haven’t had a strong insight into the highs and lows of renting whilst being a student — I doubt many of them want to. The Wellington Rental Crisis is a double feature of a shitshow and a horror movie. Housing is currently dire and reaching a crisis point across the long white cloud, nothing is being done. The prospect of owning a house one day is becoming exponentially unattainable, we will only see a ‘sold’ sign placed on our home’s front lawn in our dreams, owning a house key is nothing more than an insurmountable desire as many of us struggle to fork up the money for weekly rent, let alone a mortgage to a future home.

University Halls of Residence follow a similar pattern of being a cog in the machine that is the student housing crisis. Many students, like myself, are expected to foot a bill of around $20,000 for inadequate living spaces, as, essentially, people are expected to live in residential halls.

In addition, Halls of Residence have a monopoly on first-year housing as many landlords expect previous residential references. The idea of ‘student culture’ comes into play here too, unsurprisingly.

Once I was given the swipe card to my Hall of Residence, I wasn’t met with a haven of student culture, new people, and positive experiences — I was met with a lack of student support paired with a serious breach of my wellbeing. My room was the size of a shoebox and the food we were served, despite costing as much as a fancy Italian dinner, resembled expired cat food and tasted similar.

After dealing with homophobia from my hall’s fellow residents, I was told by the administration that I could switch to another hall if I wanted to — it was then when I truly realised that the University’s Pastoral Care Code was fictitious in nature. Implementing viable pastoral care in Halls of Residence was in my opinion, just words that meant nothing, rather than action and tangible support, to the University. Despite the lack of mould in my room in my old Hall of Residence, the living situation was no less than an appalling excuse for housing.

Yet, I was expected to enjoy the experience, as it was a part of ‘student culture’ and something all students are expected to live through.

Shitty living situations, whether in Halls or flats, should not be the prevalent norm for student accommodation.

From my experience, the idea of ‘student culture’ when renting is merely thinly-veiled alcoholism paired with unliveable yet unaffordable housing, skipping lunch to be able to afford an $8 bottle of wine for dinner. Still, the idea of being a broke, hungry uni student is a perpetuated stereotype among us all. Living in these conditions is seen as a right of passage for so many — it sickens me that students are expected, if not encouraged, to live in poverty for the beginning of their academic careers.

Some members of the Wellington City Council want to perpetuate the poverty students are going through; some members of the Wellington City Council want to keep my pay low and my rent high. I suggest these members attempt to live a week, even a day, in Wellington’s average student flat. Trust me, it’s tough to stomach expired instant noodles and tuna for longer than a week.

The city councillors who want to keep Wellington’s ‘heritage housing’ rather than build new, healthy-homes guaranteed houses, are quite literally out of touch with their voter base. When they voted to keep Wellington’s heritage housing and opt-out of being a high-density city, the idea of renters in this city never crossed their mind. These members are self-serving and turn a blind eye to poverty in their constituency.

The Wellington City Council has a constant mantra of see no housing, hear no housing, and speak no housing, especially for students. If this continues, I have no doubt I, alongside thousands of other students who can feel the palpable stress of renting, will be living with instant noodles and pennies on the dollar for the rest of our lives.

I imagine a different future for young renters in the city — a future based upon affordability and housing density, on student support and having a choice between roast dinners and instant noodles rather than instantly opting for the latter. I dream of a city where no one has to spend three hours, or even three seconds, mopping the black mould off their ceiling.

But, most of all, I dream of a city where rent and food are able to be accessed and addressed as what they are: basic human needs. The idea of broke, starving students will be a thing of the past, and ‘student culture’ will finally be rich and inviting.

That, alongside the prospect of owning a house one day, still remains a dream to me.




Mum told me not to talk about politics online. Former Youth MP, current Victoria University student, journalist for Tearaway Magazine and Salient Magazine.

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Azaria Howell

Azaria Howell

Mum told me not to talk about politics online. Former Youth MP, current Victoria University student, journalist for Tearaway Magazine and Salient Magazine.

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