Bella Hernandez and Francis Collier, a Mexican/Kiwi couple, bought their first home in Auckland – a home on wheels. Photo: Laura Brookes.
“If you want a house, stop buying smashed avocado.”
If there’s one message that sums up the existential housing crisis of our generation, it’s this one. The resounding sentiment that if only we had acquired the emotional strength to boycott smashed avocado, we’d all be home owners by now.
But I’ve done the math, and I’m not convinced.
If I purchase a $17 smashed avocado once a week and decide from this day forth that I shall boycott the highlight of my week, I’ll be able to afford a 20 percent house deposit on a typically priced Auckland house in exactly 181 years*, after missing out on approximately 9,412 smashed avocado meals. *This is not taking into account inflation, rising house prices, or the sobering fact that I probably won’t live to be 205 years old.
Now, it’s not like we’re the first generation to struggle with the cost of inner city student living. Students have been living on the two-minute noodle diet far longer than we’ve been complaining about the millennial obsession with smashed avocado. But when I hear of students living in a tent on someone’s lawn, renting out a bathroom, living in someone’s garage or putting up a cardboard box ‘wall’ just to accommodate two individuals in one space, that’s when I can say with confidence we’ve got bigger fish to fry than our weekend brunch habits.
With all that in mind, I thought I’d introduce you to a few of those friends, because this is their reality.
How Many is too Many?
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with hostels, caught between the desire to make new friends all day every day and wanting my own space. But I can put up with it knowing I’ll be gone in a few days’ time. We all put up with it knowing that it’s the exception to our lives, not the rule. But how would you cope if this was your day-to-day life?
Steward Issac could tell you. The 25-year-old IT student spent six months of last year living in a three-bedroom city apartment with 15 other people – and paying $135 a week to do it.
“Everything was ridiculous. There was no privacy in the house – at all. I was also sleeping terribly. I’d get maybe three to four hours in a night, because with so many people around, the light would constantly be turned on in the bedroom. I used to try covering my bed with blankets [to block out the light] but it was still too difficult to fall asleep.”
Months rolled by and the parties continued and the quiet never came. Steward found it increasingly difficult to focus, and instead resigned himself to staying late hours at university simply to ensure his assignments were done before returning home.
For the Sake of a Roof
“I couldn’t do anything for myself… and studying in that environment was impossible. People would be watching TV, listening to music, talking… and I can’t just say, ‘hey, I’m studying, be quiet’, because the house was shared by all of us.”
Admittedly, that was never where Steward planned to live as a student. His idea was to live in the suburbs, but upon realising that waking up three hours earlier than his first lecture of the day to wage war against traffic wasn’t altogether ideal, he was forced to accept his current living conditions as a necessary evil, of sorts.
Unsurprisingly, his stint in that house didn’t last. After six months he gave in, moving into a two-bedroom place housing eight people. Four months later, Steward shifted again – this time into his current living quarters – a two-bedroom city apartment shared by six people, each gifted a 10-minute limit on bathroom usage to keep everyone sane, clean, and on time.
Both changes were an improvement on his previous living quarters, says Steward, but still served as a reminder that living like a hostel-goer as a student in the city could no longer be called the exception to the rule. In fact, it had started to look more like the rule than ever before.
“I’ve never stayed in a hostel in New Zealand… I’ve stayed in hostels back in India. But where I’m living now, that’s what it feels like. A strange hostel life.”
And with the added costs of food, power and utilities, god knows his bank account could probably get a better deal out of an actual hostel.
At least he’d get a free breakfast.
Making the Most of it
Okay, so the market can be bleak – I get that. And without smashed avocado, it’s even more miserable. But if there’s one thing you need to know, it’s that life isn’t all 16-person living spaces, tents, bathrooms, garages and pedantic bathroom schedules. We’ve got options.
Meet Bella Hernandez and Francis Collier – a Mexican and a Kiwi making the most of their options.
The Eden Terrace couple are proud owners of a Daihatsu Delta Truck house van, purchased for $20,000 at the end of January from a Karikari couple, who themselves have built more than three houses on wheels. With the freedom to drive anywhere, the comfort of a bed to crash on, the convenience of all the usual utilities, a wondrous array of patterned cushions and the coolest vase I’ve ever laid eyes on, it’s safe to say I’ve been wondering whether I should invest in one, too.
If you’ve ever watched Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, you might consider this the less glamorous version of a well-deserved transformation. There’s no Ty Pennington, no film crew capturing the grand reveal, no bus to move, and no million-dollar budget; just a couple of graduates doing what they can to invest small and make it into the property market on their terms. After all, who wants to waste money on a home they’ll never actually own?
“We were living in flats with people before and it was nice, but Francis and I have been together for nearly four years so we wanted our own space,” says Bella, 25.
“It’s something young adults want – your own space, because that’s different [to flatting]. But we never wanted to ask the bank for a whole lot of money, so we asked ourselves: ‘how can we do it in a smart way and also in a cool way?’ It will lower our cost of living and help us to save more, so why don’t we just do it? So much of our income before that was going into rent – and for something that we don’t even own in the end. That’s the main reason we did it like this.”
A mechatronics engineer by trade, Francis first dreamt of building the house van himself. He would make what he could from scratch, source parts, keep it eco-friendly and self-sustainable, and voila! His creative thinking and building skills would have seen the project through to a brilliant finished product, says Bella, who trained as a speech therapist. But after discussing the idea with relatives and realising it could cost them more, both in money and time, they instead decided to purchase.
Now that they’re living their dream, the couple’s goal is to make hospitality the hallmark of their little home. They plan to host as many people as possible in their home, and eventually build a community space for little houses on their own patch of land.
“[Owning this] is a dream for us… and I would tell students that it’s good to dream, because you really can make whatever you imagine possible,” says Bella.
“It’s also good to learn how to save well. In this generation, we’re used to having everything instantly. If we Google for information, we can know everything within minutes. But when it comes to saving, it takes time. It takes patience, and that’s what this process has taught me.”
Bella and Francis got a good deal. They ventured outside the box. They tried something a little different to make Auckland work for them and, thankfully, it has.
But for many of us, the rising rate of Auckland’s housing prices – aka the ‘housing crisis’ we’ve all come to know and love – is sinking our dreams down the wastepipe. The ones where we stamp our name of ownership over a house within our lifetimes, and not 205 years later. Or at the very least, keep a roof over our heads as we try to do good in this world.
Living in any major city is not cheap. But when students are pitching tents on lawns, renting out bathroom spaces or living in cramped 16-person apartment spaces just to get by for the sake of a degree… Houston, we have a problem.
Something’s gotta give – and soon. But it won’t be my smashed avocado.
Because if we can’t afford to buy houses, then little luxuries like brunch are something we truly ought to treasure.