New Zealand’s housing debate has slipped into a racism row with the main opposition Labour Party put on the dock for a real estate data it released recently, which showed nearly 40 percent of buyers of the pricey Auckland property are Chinese.

But the party has denied allegations of any intended racism in holding Chinese investors for pushing up prices in Auckland's property market. Labour said it was trying to articulate the concerns that are already in the air, backed by valid data. The intent was to show how houses are becoming unaffordable in New Zealand's largest city.

Minister Blames Labour

The tag of racism over the Auckland property row was thrown at Labour by Housing Minister Nick Smith, who accused Labour of "playing the race card." Labour's housing spokesman Phil Twyford strongly refuted the allegation of racism and said the data was self evident and the party only wanted to promote the debate on a key issue and was not singling out Chinese buyers. "If they have perceived this as a criticism of them, it isn't. Our only concern is about offshore Chinese speculators," Twyford explained.

Labour’s top leader Andrew Little too justified the party’s stand and noted that issue of foreign ownership needs to be tackled convincingly. He called for a register of foreign property owners to give New Zealanders an accurate picture on who is buying into the housing market. “They're sick and tired of losing homes at auction to higher bidders down the end of a telephone line in another country," Little said.

Adding to the controversy was the statement by Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy, who slammed “sweeping allegations on a community.” She termed it simplistic that ethnic Chinese were behind the city's price rises. The Race commissioner said, "Dumbing down complex economic woes and blaming them on an ethnic community whose members are already feeling under pressure is neither new nor unique, but it's always disappointing.”

Soaring Prices

The average house prices in Auckland is now at NZ$755,000, after a 26 percent jump until June 2015, while prices outside the city are staying steady at around NZ$340,000. Auckland, with a population of 1.5 million houses one third of New Zealand’s total population. According to official data, Auckland is the most preferred city where migrants like to settle.

The data released by Labour had noted that people of Chinese descent dominate property transactions in Auckland. Between February and April they had 39.5 of the total transactions, which was disproportionate to their share in the city's population, which is just 9 percent .

(For feedback/comments, contact the writer at