Most teenagers don’t pay rent yet, but they already know they’ll probably never buy a house in Auckland. Blair McIntosh is one of them - but he won’t let that put him off his dream of teaching.
Blair McIntosh launches a water polo ball across the pool, diving after it as his opponent intercepts the throw.
He comes up gesticulating, shouting - not the angry yells of a sportsman thwarted, but animated words of encouragement and advice.
He’s not on official coaching duty, but even now he can’t help himself.
A real water baby (he started swimming at six months old) Blair is a swim instructor and water polo coach after school.
Having grown up with teachers in the family, he’s “probably tried everything in the book to avoid teaching”, he says. Several teachers - including his mum - have tried to talk him out of going into the profession. It hasn’t worked.
After he leaves Long Bay College on Auckland’s North Shore in a few weeks, Blair will be heading to the University of Auckland to study geography and history, the first step on the path to becoming a high school teacher.
He’s under no illusion it will be an easy ride.
It isn’t a highly paid profession … It is going to be really challenging for me. Teachers themselves are saying that maybe Auckland isn’t the place for a teacher any more because it’s just too expensive.
Blair is one of 84 head students at schools across Auckland surveyed for Polite Rebellion, a Stuff project examining the aspirations, fears and opinions of Auckland’s future leaders.
Already, he’s well aware that if he becomes a teacher, Auckland’s high cost of living could mean he has to leave the city he loves and has grown up in. During the last few years several teachers have left his school, ditching Auckland for Whangarei and Tauranga where rents and house prices are cheaper, Blair says.
He’s yet to give up hope of home ownership in Auckland, but he’s open-minded about what it will look like. The quarter acre dream that “generations of Kiwis viewed as a basic right of citizenship” is no longer viable, he says.
Maybe an apartment in a block or a terraced townhouse is the best I’m going to get. But I think it will probably come after years of renting because that’s how it is now.
He’s certain his first house will be very different to the spacious Albany home he’s grown up in, with a pool in the backyard and neighbours who have pet llamas.
The starting salary for graduate teachers is $47,980. The median house price for Auckland was $850,000 in September. Even if he was looking at a $670,000 house - the price a quarter of properties fall below - it would take Blair 16 years after graduating to scrape together the deposit, according to research by the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ).
Auckland’s median rent hit a record high in August - paying that would set him back $550 a week.
Getting around the city doesn’t come cheap either. Auckland’s public transport is the third most expensive in the world, according to a 2017 report by Deutsche Bank. High petrol prices, including from regional and nationwide fuel taxes, are also a factor.
But it isn’t just those on middle to low incomes who are concerned about the high cost of living in Auckland.
Kayla Turner, 17, hopes to become a doctor, but says it’s already “scary” to imagine the debt she’ll get into at medical school. She’s coming to the end of her time at Albany Senior High School and wants Auckland to be her long-term home. But it’s unclear to her if she’ll be able to live comfortably or own a home here.
Kayla Turner of Albany Senior High School. (SUPPLIED)
Only 26 per cent of the 84 head students Stuff surveyed say they definitely see themselves living in Auckland long-term. Half are unsure where they’ll live, almost one-fifth (18 per cent) want to live overseas and 6 per cent plan to live elsewhere in New Zealand.
Only 30 per cent are confident they’ll be able to buy a house in Auckland and 20 per cent say they definitely won’t. The remaining half are unsure.
Botany Downs Secondary College student leader Jordan See wants to stay in Auckland permanently and sees himself buying a house here - but not until he’s at least 30.
Jordan See student leader of Botany Downs Secondary College. (SUPPLIED)
“Prices have soared in Auckland - especially housing and most recently, fuel. Being able to support our families could be a potential issue in the future," he says.
See moved to Auckland from Singapore a decade ago and says acclimatising to New Zealand culture - and the weather - has been “a journey”. The thought of leaving his friends and family behind, again, is “quite daunting”.
For Justin Walsh, of Green Bay High School, financial worries overshadow his other thoughts about leaving school.
I worry about student debt and having to spend my life repaying this debt rather than focusing on things such as starting a family in my ideal idea of living.
He wants to study psychology and criminal justice at university. He’s worked at Countdown for two years but is nervous about starting his career in “a very hard economy”.
“I would love to live in Auckland but am unsure if this will be achievable straight after leaving uni, as rent, transport and work availability is all over the show,” Walsh says.
“I hear stories of people who have struggled to find work which then causes issues when paying for Auckland living needs. I would prefer to live somewhere smaller with cheaper living than in Auckland where I may struggle to survive.”
Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick, 24, says life in 2018 is “precarious” compared to 30 or 40 years ago, with good jobs and adequate housing harder to come by.
Rental standards need to be higher and apartments need to be more affordable and accessible, she says.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff agrees it’s difficult for young Aucklanders to buy their first home. “It takes help from mum and dad and good jobs and good income to do that.”
Auckland Council’s unitary plan designates more land for intensive housing and is designed to bring down the cost of land, Goff says. The council plans to do this by making the city more “compact”, building more multi-unit dwellings, which will give people the choice of living in apartments and terraced housing.
AUT sociology professor Charles Crothers says how Aucklanders live is changing. “It’s reasonably clear it’s going to be a lot more built up,” he says.
However, Crothers iscritical of the Government’s plan to build satellite developments “all over the place”, including on the region’s outskirts. “I am bothered about sprawl. Intensification of dwellings would be good,” he says.
“The reason [the Government is] doing this is because of cheap housing but there’s also social cohesion, getting jobs and I’m not quite sure cheap housing wherever is the best answer.”
Jacqueline Paul is a researcher at AUT, working on the Building Better Homes, Towns & Cities National Science Challenge. She says not only is buying their own home a challenge for young people - many are also experiencing homelessness.
Last year, the 24-year-old investigated urban papakāinga as part of her landscape architecture degree at Unitec. Paul says papakāinga are te ao Māori housing concepts similar to co-housing developments that are becoming increasingly popular in New Zealand.
“On papakāinga you’re generally related and it’s always on Māori land, whereas co-housing is probably on general land. But the fundamentals are still the same.”
Looking at housing from a te ao Māori lens could help create a shift in thinking, Paul says.
We kind of move away from this individualism to more collectivism. We’ve got so many subdivisions, how can we transform these where they focus a lot more on community? For example, space, food, renewable energy, reducing waste.
Blair echoes Paul’s view that people’s perceptions need to change when it comes to living in Auckland.
“We’re still, particularly in Auckland, holding on to these old ideals about what we really crave. We’re still holding onto these ideas about what a traditional job looks like, what a traditional house looks like, what our transport modes look like,” he says.
“We’re still stuck in this past. That’s fine for anywhere else in New Zealand. But [in] Auckland we can’t think that way any more. It’s no longer economical. It’s no longer sustainable.”
Reporting: Brittany Keogh and Josephine Franks
Visuals: Lawrence Smith
Animation and design: Kathryn George
Data: Andy Fyers
Development: John Harford
Editors: John Hartevelt and Blair Ensor