Good news for Christchurch renters

19/06/2012 § 1 Comment

Some good news out of Christchurch:

An investigation into overcrowding, homelessness and unsuitable living conditions in Christchurch has been kick-started by a government department.

There have been some dire stories coming out of Christchurch — families living in caravans and garages, people still using port-a-loos, rental inflation, etc. It hasn’t been clear how bad the problem is, since stories aren’t necessarily data.

Eric Crampton has some good thoughts on the issue, and not for the first time. The key is to overcome the supply-side constraint. That will take some novel solutions in a difficult situation. Of course, the whole raison d’etre of bureaucracy is routinisation — the opposite of novelty.

It’s not all good news, however.

This particular study won’t be easy to do. It sounds like they have one staffer looking into the problem:

A staff member was seconded into the role two weeks ago and would compile a report to help the department “identify the appropriate policy response”, a spokeswoman said.

Yikes! How much is this person going to be able to do?

Let’s think about the problem this way: there are primary data and secondary data. Primary data are new pieces of information that you go out and collect; secondary data are someone else’s information that you bend to your purpose. If you want to do something quickly, secondary data are the way to go. A big chunk of work is done, someone else has verified and tested the information, and you can point to other sources to buttress the validity of your arguments.

For example, one complaint is that the rent is too high. Eric’s idea of looking at the tenancy bond database is a good one — it’s been done before. Of course, once you have the data, there are all sorts of ways to torture them. It sounds like the biggest problems are concentrated, so simple averages may mask the extent of the problem for specific groups of people. Secondary data may be able to help understand this issue.

Other complaints, though, are about housing conditions. A study of the bond database doesn’t seem like it would help assess those complaints.

The key here is that the Christchurch situation is new and different. Primary data may be required to assess it. People with housing insecurity are difficult to study. How do you sample them? How do you contact them? What is the base population to whom they should be compared? What is ‘substandard’ housing given the earthquakes?

I look forward to the report, and I hope they choose a method that actually helps them understand the problems.


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§ One Response to Good news for Christchurch renters

  • I’ve also since heard that the tenancy bond data can update with lags, so might not be as current as we might like.

    Agree that housing quality is an issue, but it ought to be one that sorts itself out once you get rid of the supply bottleneck and landlords have to compete a bit.

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