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Yesterdaze: A better way to measure our housing crisis

Numbers can be misleading, and that's why James Elliott suggests a more fitting name for KiwiBuild. Here's his news of the week.

I don’t have the power to give out gongs but if I did Samuel Kempf from Timaru would be my New Zealander of the week. Sam was riding the Shambhala roller coaster in Spain at 134km/h when he demonstrated lightning reflexes in catching a fellow coaster’s flying phone. After the ride Sam returned the phone to its owner and received a hearty hug in return.

Sam’s story is gongworthy because it was such a relief to find a cheerful news story with a happy ending in a week where the Amazon is on fire, Category 5 Hurricane Dorian is mauling the Caribbean, Hong Kong could be facing a Tiananmen Square scenario, Trump is still being Trump, Greenland’s ice sheet is melting at alarming rate, and British parliamentary democracy is melting down even faster than that. And Brodie Retallick is still in doubt for the Rugby World Cup.

The combined effect of those headlines is enough to make you want to burrow under the duvet and call in sick with an acute case of Weltschmerz - a German compound noun for pain caused by the state of the world.

Shambhala translates from Sanskrit as ‘an inaccessible place’, a far more accurate name than KiwiBuild.

So scanning the news but not wanting to risk being drawn into yet another tale of Weltschmerz-inducing woe I decided to focus more closely on Sam Kempf’s charming story with the happy ending. (Unsurprisingly, there’s no German compound noun for a charming story with a happy ending). So I re-read Sam’s story and realised that first time round I had skipped over the final sentence: “Mr Kempf was in Spain representing New Zealand at the Fistballing World Championships.”

It struck me that this sentence could have been an example of burying a very interesting lead depending on the definition of the new-to-me compound noun, fistballing. I was  somewhat relieved to find out that fistballing is in fact a sport, similar to volleyball. Not only that, fistball has a long history dating back as far as the year 240 under the Roman Emperor Gordian III. This year Germany won the world fistball championships for an unprecedented seventh time in the last nine finals. That was a lead buried in the last sentence of New Zealand media coverage of the finals which went with the headline: “New Zealand 11th at World Fistball Championships."

Incidentally, while fistball is similar to volleyball it is mostly played outdoors on a field that is more than six times the size of a volleyball court. At 50m by 20m and 1000sq m in total area, a fistball field is more or less a quarter-acre, or as it’s more commonly referred to by first time home buyers, the quarter-acre dream. Unfortunately these days the quarter-acre section only really exists in dreams, particularly if you’re looking for a new build home in Auckland. The median size of a new home section in Auckland in the late 1980s was 731sq m. Now it’s just under 500sq m which is about the area of three volleyball courts or half a fistball field. Based on that rate of decrease in median section size, within 15 years new build homes in Auckland will be offered in three section sizes – basketball court, volleyball court and for single people under 1.8m, table-tennis table.         

Paying interest on a loan at the rate of 292 percent per annum is like being hit in the face by a sizeable dollop of Weltschmerz travelling at 134km/h.

And just like that I’d left Sam’s story and found myself looking at news coverage of the housing crisis in general and the KiwiBuild reset in particular. The KiwiBuild reset was fronted this week by newly-minted Housing Minister Megan Woods. The NZ Herald’s Audrey Young described Megan’s KiwiBuild reset presentation as a “masterclass in surrendering to failure”. Based on that skill set, Megan will be in hot demand over the coming months fronting the Government’s delivery on mental health, education and homelessness policies. 

One of the questions leading into the KiwiBuild reset was whether the tainted KiwiBuild name itself would be kept or replaced. As it turned out, the KiwiBuild name wasn’t replaced but it probably should have been. The Government could have adopted “Shambhala”, the name of Sam’s Spanish rollercoaster. Shambhala translates from Sanskrit as ‘an inaccessible place’, a far more accurate name than KiwiBuild.

It felt good to be back on track with Shambhala and Sam’s story but during my re-re-read I had a nagging thought about that 134km/h rollercoaster speed. The phone wasn’t travelling at 134km/h in relation to Sam when he caught it. Sam and the phone were both travelling at about 134km/h so how fast was the phone travelling in relation to Sam? After a bit of research I established that the relative speed between Sam and the phone can be worked out, just not by me. However, that 134km/h figure illustrates the danger in accepting numbers at face value. For example, this week Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi announced a new initiative to cap the amount of interest that loan shark lenders can charge to 0.8 percent … per day. That is indeed a small number, per day, but it adds up to an annual interest rate of 292 percent. And paying interest on a loan at the rate of 292 percent per annum is like being hit in the face by a sizeable dollop of Weltschmerz travelling at 134km/h.              

Have a peaceful weekend.

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