Bryce Edwards: MPs own 2.2 houses on average

Bryce Edwards: MPs own 2.2 houses on average

Why aren’t politicians taking more action on the housing affordability crisis? The answer might lie in the latest “Register of Pecuniary Interests.” This register contains details of the various financial interests of parliamentarians. It shows that politicians own real estate in significant numbers.

The register published on Tuesday contains a summary of the details for 120 MPs elected last year (but not newly-elected list MPs from 2024) – see: Register of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament

It reveals a fair amount of disturbing MP financial activity and ownership – especially regarding housing ownership. More generally, the register shows that the New Zealand Parliament contains a relatively narrow spectrum of socio-economic interests.

Housing: 2.2 houses per MP

Collectively, the Parliament owns 261 houses, or 2.2 properties each. Of course, the number of dwellings owned varies greatly between MPs. A total of 91 MPs had a stake in more than one property, and 63 had a stake in three or more properties. At the extremes, nine MPs said they own no property, while ten MPs own seven houses.

National Party MPs are the most significant property owners, with interests in 136 properties, an average of 2.8 per MP. Labour Party MPs have a stake in 62, an average of 1.9 each. The Act caucus has 28 houses – 2.5 houses on average. NZ First’s caucus has 14 properties – 1.8 each. For the Greens, there are 12 properties (0.9 houses each). Te Pati Māori has 8 houses, or 1.3 each.

In terms of Cabinet ministers, they own 60 houses, meaning on average, they have a stake in 3 houses each. Sitting on the top rung, of course, Prime Minister Christoper Luxon has seven properties – four investment properties, two residential properties in Auckland, and one apartment in Wellington.

The closest behind Luxon is Mark Mitchell, with six properties, again all in Auckland apart from his Wellington apartment. Shane Jones has the third-largest property empire, with five residential properties in the Far North. Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters declares three properties—a house and land in Northland’s Whananaki and a home in Auckland.

Outside of Cabinet, the National MPs with large numbers of properties are Andrew Bayley (7 properties), Carlos Cheung (6), Penny Simmonds (5), Gerry Brownlee (5), and Barbara Kuriger (5).

In the opposition, the most significant property owners are Jenny Salesa (5 properties) and Adrian Rurawhe (who lists six properties he has an interest in, but which are primarily dozens of Māori land blocks).

The eight MPs that don’t list any property ownership are Labour’s Peeni Henare, National’s James Meager, NZ First’s Tanya Unkovich, Act’s Andrew Hoggard, Te Pati Māori’s Rawiri Waititi and the Greens’ Marama Davidson, Tamatha Paul, and Darleen Tana. However, these MPs might own houses within other ownership structures – for example, Andrew Hoggard owns a farm, Tanya Unkovich list her ownership of a “holding company of family home”, and Darleen Tana has ownership of three trusts that could contain houses.

Notably, compared to this small handful of nine non-home-owning MPs, back in 2008, the last time a National-led coalition came to power, 26 MPs had no ownership stake in property.

MP property ownership driving complacency

Given that New Zealand MPs are so heavily invested in property, it raises questions about whether this impacts their willingness to deal with the housing affordability crisis. Owning so many houses means MPs have a vested interest in preventing the housing market from slowing growth or even having house prices drop. They are personally advantaged by retaining the status quo.

For an interesting discussion on how politicians orientate to fixing the housing crisis, see Susan Edmunds’ RNZ article from yesterday, What it’s like to be a renting MP

In this, economists Gareth Kiernan and Shamubeel Eaqub don’t put much weight on the MP’s home ownership in explaining inaction on housing. Eaqub says it’s a broader vested interests problem: “It’s not just that the MPs have property and investment property and hence there is a vested interest – it’s that people who vote for them and engage with them are similar. It’s unhelpful to go ‘isn’t it terrible MPs have all these houses’ – well it is but it also means the people they’re dealing with and the group represented in our political system is increasingly from the landed gentry.”

However, it’s worth noting that in the past, MPs who haven’t owned property have argued that it had given them a different perspective on the housing crisis compared to their colleagues. For example, Act Party leader David Seymour, when he was previously house-less during the last National-led Government claimed: “The fact that the average National MP owns 2.2 properties of their own might suggest why they’ve spent a lot of time introducing solutions that you’d almost suspect weren’t supposed to work – because they certainly haven’t”.

Similarly, at the same time, the then Green Party co-leader James Shaw – who at that time also didn’t own a house – added: “The fact that the vast majority of our members of Parliament own multiple properties is quite a good signal for why there isn’t a capital gains tax in this country. There’s very little appetite amongst the National caucus for a proper capital gains tax.”

More analysis and attention needs to be put into this area, as MPs continue to be too divorced from the reality of the housing crisis.

Dr Bryce Edwards

Political Analyst in Residence, Director of the Democracy Project, School of Government, Victoria University of Wellington

This article can be republished for free under a Creative Commons copyright-free license. Attributions should include a link to the Democracy Project (https://democracyproject.nz)