COVID-19 and media constructions of housing and home in Aotearoa New Zealand

Photo: Suzy Hazelwood, Pexels.

Mainstream media persistently reduces housing to a property investment and housing stock as a commodity for trade according to new research by Building Better’s Dr Gauri Nandedkar, a researcher in the Affordable Housing for Generations team.

“Despite the home being the central mechanism of defence in the Government’s ‘bubble’ strategy to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, with the public required to isolate at home, mainstream media rarely made connections between public health strategies to manage COVID-19 and the state of housing, and persistently treated housing as an aspect of the property market – a financial asset, commodity and wealth generator – even while the pandemic and the requirement to isolate were in full swing.

“Some Māori media did make more direct connections between COVID-19 and housing and framed those connections through its focus on whānau and wellbeing. Narratives typically portrayed COVID-19 not as creating a housing crisis, but the housing crisis increasing vulnerabilities to COVID-19. The lack of adequate, safe, and secure housing was presented as meaning many were unable to ‘shelter in place’ in order to protect themselves and their families.

“COVID-19 revealed existing inequities in the housing sector, and in particular, revealed extremely different experiences during the period of lockdown as one shaped by notions of, or lack of, home, healthy food, access to resources, and digital connectivity.

“These narratives in Māori media throw into sharp relief a media discourse treating housing as a vehicle for investment and wealth accumulation and a more marginalised media discourse that focuses on the use value of housing and the rights of people to secure wellbeing through decent housing.

“In the pandemic response where housing was a critical tool in maintaining a first line of defence against COVID-19, the lack of secure and decent housing for many reflects a disconnect in health policy response and the reality of housing unaffordability and precarity,” says Gauri.

Aotearoa New Zealand responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by adopting an elimination, rather than a suppression, strategy that involved using traditional public health techniques of rapid tracking and tracing, isolation, and quarantine. This involved breaking chains of transmission through the use of a hierarchy of increasingly stringent lockdowns in which at the two highest levels, levels 3 and 4, all households, apart from those with members designated as essential workers, were required to isolate at home. The ‘home’ became the central mechanism of defence in national public health measures to manage the pandemic. The use of the home as a key tool in the COVID-19 management strategy occurred in the midst of a housing affordability crisis for those on low incomes, with associated problems of housing security.

“The strategy highlighted our persistent problems with unaffordable and insecure housing, as well as homelessness. The interplay between the housing crisis and COVID-19, and the way in which it was dealt with in the media, perpetuates the meaning of housing and home in this country.”

Gauri examined representations of the home in the media through the first six months of the COVID-19 management strategy through a systematic review and analysis of articles which reference COVID-19 and housing from 1 January 2020 to 25 June 2020.

“The analysis also revealed that most media articles focus on and promote home ownership and housing investor perspectives. There were fewer articles which support or are written from a renter’s or tenant’s perspective. Emergent references to housing as a human right were identified, but these were marginal and were not articulated in a way that challenges the dominant frame. In addition, it should be noted that Pacific communities remained on the periphery of media interest.”

Read the research

Nandedkar, G. (2021). Covid-19 and media constructions of housing and home in Aotearoa New Zealand. Report for Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities, Affordable Housing for Generations. November 2021, 23pgs. Wellington: BBHTC.

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Date posted: 24 November 2021