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‘Haves and have-nots’: how the housing crisis is creating two New Zealands – a photo essay | New Zealand

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Returning home to a country he couldn’t afford to secure a home in, New Zealand photographer Cody Ellingham began to roam suburban streets at night with his camera. In a new series of photographs, he reflects the unease and discomfort of a generation locked out of one of the world’s most unaffordable housing markets.

Earlier this month, property data analytics companies said the average national house price was hitting between NZ$937,000 and $1m, nearly eight times the annual household income. Real Estate Institute data shows there was a 31% increase over the year to July.

'Living Room Lights'.

New Zealand’s large cities of Wellington and Auckland have some of the least affordable property markets in the world – homeownership rates in New Zealand have been falling since the early 1990s across all age brackets, but the drop is especially pronounced for people in their 20s and 30s.

The images he has captured form a visual record of that experience: New Zealand homes documented with a sense of alienation and affection. “In the sense that I can’t afford a house, like many young people I’m locked out of the housing market. And so I’m looking from the outside, looking in.”

'Housing Project'.

  • ‘Housing Project’. When New Zealand’s state homes were first build, ‘they represented a home for every New Zealander,’ says Cody Ellingham.

“They’re these kind of relics – the architecture, the houses – they represent something. Artefacts from an earlier time. The state houses represented an idealism when they were first built, they represented a home for every New Zealander,” Ellingham says. “The reality of that symbol now is that they’re sort of decaying and falling apart.”

At night-time, he says, the buildings are rendered strange and less familiar. “You can see the building not just for the reality of it but the more magical aspects of it. By shooting it at night I’m trying to kind of unravel and find the story of the building.”

'Christmas Eve'.
'Shuttered House'.

Ellingham’s images capture everyday New Zealand scenes of domesticity: the white weatherboards of state houses, built in their thousands through the middle of the century, a sliver of blue television through a window, a collection of children’s toys abandoned in a doorway. Ownership of these kinds of homes, once considered something of a birthright in New Zealand, is now sliding out of reach for all but a few. The next generation will be increasingly divided into those who can leverage generational wealth to secure a deposit, and those locked out.

'Old Villa'.
'Old Cottage'.

  • Top: ‘Old Villa’. Most young New Zealanders cannot afford to buy a home without parental help.
    Bottom: ‘Old Cottage’. The average national house price hit between NZ$937,000 and $1m in September.

“Coming back and exploring New Zealand I was really struck by this great divide that I saw between the haves and the have-nots in this country,” he says.

“That stark difference in New Zealand, expressed through housing, was quite shocking because I created these myths in my mind … I grew up in Hawke’s Bay in the 90s and the New Zealand that I remember, the New Zealand of my parents and grandparents, was a very equal society, [a society] of the dream of owning your own home, having a good job, having a good life. And a lot of that we’re seeing is starting to fall apart.”

‘State House’.

Earlier this month, spokesperson for Consumer NZ Gemma Rasmussen said that with house prices rising so quickly, even high-income millennials will struggle to save for a deposit without the benefit of intergenerational wealth. “We’re heading for a place where there are two New Zealands: the people who have property, they’re secure and their capital gains will continue to grow, and then there are people who are locked out.”

The country’s self-concept, which emphasises values like egalitarianism and fairness, is fracturing, Ellingham says. “The old New Zealand is slipping through our fingers like sand.”

  • Ellingham’s Auckland exhibition, New Zealand Nocturnes, has been postponed until 2021 due to the Covid-19 lockdown

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