Scholarship funds research into housing affordability
10 June 2019
The first recipient of the George McWhirter Memorial Masters Thesis Scholarship is using it to fund his research into housing affordability in New Zealand.
The $5,000 that Samuel Vella received from the George McWhirter Memorial Masters Thesis Scholarship went directly to his rent. The irony of this is not lost on Sam, who is studying housing affordability for his Master of Arts in Sociology.
The submission date for his thesis is drawing close, and Sam is in the final stages of writing up his research. He has been trawling through speeches and policies to understand how the fifth National government framed the problem of housing affordability, what they said they would do, and what they did.
The scholarship that is funding his research was established in 2018 by Dianne Sisley in memory of her grandfather George McWhirter, who was a politically aware, socially minded Massey farmer, a New Lynn councillor, and a builder of state houses in the 1940s.
Sam met Dianne last year to thank her for the scholarship. "It was nice to meet her, she was just concerned with the way things are and the way things have gone with housing, and she seemed pretty stoked on what I was saying about my work. She said that I would have got on with her late grandfather very well."
I wanted to write about housing affordability assuming that those people counted as human beings — so when you say addressing something for 'all people', they count.
The scholarship was almost made-to-measure for Sam, who grew up in the same area that George McWhirter farmed in West Auckland.
"My grandparents settled there when they came to New Zealand, and my grandfather was a bricklayer in the same neighbourhood around the same sort of time."
It was Sam's background in writing science fiction and fantasy that brought him to university at the age of 27. He had been doing jobs like driving a forklift and working in retail sales and enrolled to dedicate three years to thinking about and working on writing. He says that attending university was a "real fast period of growth and transition" for him as he was exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking.
"I didn't come for that, but it happened. I realised that the best part about it was that it gives you the time to think and to write and to read and to do stuff that I don’t think I could do while I was working."
He was inspired to study housing affordability after experiencing first-hand the void between what people were saying about housing affordability in the media and on a policy level, and the actual experience of living it and seeing people in far worse situations that were disregarded in most of these discussions.
"I wanted to write about housing affordability assuming that those people counted as human beings — so when you say addressing something for 'all people', they count."
I've lived in West Auckland my whole life and watching the hardship and insecurity growing in my community alongside the rising cost of housing has left me determined to try and contribute in any way I can.
Associate Professor Louise Humpage is supervising his thesis, and was one of many people who encouraged Sam to apply for this new scholarship, which alleviated a lot of the stress of renting in Auckland while on a student budget.
"The scholarship was so amazing because it meant that I didn't have to work for summer and I was able to pay my rent and keep doing my masters and look after my grandfather."
He is also thankful to Dianne for establishing the scholarship because housing is an area in which he thinks a lot more work needs to be done.
"I've lived in West Auckland my whole life and watching the hardship and insecurity growing in my community alongside the rising cost of housing has left me determined to try and contribute in any way I can."
Sam is looking forward to getting back into more direct activism and advocacy after he has submitted his thesis.