23 Jun 2015

Otara residents speak up over state housing

7:17 am on 23 June 2015

Otara residents have spoken out about the state of their state houses, with one family describing theirs as a "ticking time bomb" with rotten, wet flooring.

Bonnie and William Moa

Bonnie and William Moa Photo: RNZ / Nicole Pryor

About 100 people attended a meeting about housing in Otara, South Auckland over the weekend, with many expressing their concerns about the state of their state houses and private rentals.

Bonnie and William Moa, who attended the meeting, live in Otara with their three children.

Rotting floorboards in Bonnie and William Moa's house

Rotting floorboards in Bonnie and William Moa's house Photo: RNZ / Nicole Pryor

They said in January, they returned from Tauranga to find their house had been broken into and vandalised - faeces and graffiti all over the walls, and the hot water cylinder ripped out, causing the place to flood.

Ms Moa said although Housing New Zealand replaced the cylinder and put lino down in the kitchen, the wooden floorboards underneath were rotting, and coated in mould.

She said the house was not safe for her family, and they were desperate to get out.

"We're hoping they'll put us in a different house, because they've been coming here all the time, painting...it's like a ticking time bomb every time we sleep here," she said.

She said their last hope was to get a letter from their doctor, and a local MP, to help plead their case.

Massey Vakatini, his partner and five children live across the road.

"There is insulation in the house, I don't know, did you feel any temperature rise when you walked in the house...not at all eh, so that speaks for itself," said Mr Vakatini.

And Ramari Rihari, who lives just around the corner, said there was no let up from the cold and her children were getting sick.

"At the moment, I think my oldest boy might have rheumatic fever, all to do with the coldness of the house, and bronchitis, he's had it twice...ever since he was a baby and he's been constantly sick all the time," she said.

Ms Rihari said it was so cold in her two-storey house, she and her four children slept downstairs together.

'Respiratory cripples'

Public health spokesperson for Child Poverty Action Group Nikki Turner said that was a textbook solution that barely helped.

"Some of it is that when you are cold, your immune system does not work so well, some of it's when the house is damp, our bodies respond to dampness and get reactive airways, like asthma, and chronic chest infections, and some of it is that people crowd together, in the warmest part of the house, where the bug is more likely to be spread," Dr Turner said.

She said New Zealand had a high rate of chronic lung damage, and the reason for that was children got repeated respiratory illnesses when they were young.

"They become what we call respiratory cripples, where they have trouble breathing, getting enough oxygen, they're unable to perform sports and activities the way other people can, and they have a shortened life span," she said.

Professor of public health at the University of Otago Philippa Howden-Chapman said the Government had made a good step by insulating state houses, but they were about a third of the way through.

"We know that this has an impact on health because we have a much higher proportion of people who die in winter when the temperatures are cold, in excess of 1600 people die in winter, that's about an 18 percent increase in deaths in winter," she said.

"This does not occur in countries that take the quality of their housing more seriously."

Ms Howden-Chapman said New Zealanders were getting ripped off in their power bills.

"The price of electricity has increased about 83 percent in the last 10 years, and we know that low income homes need to spend about 13 percent of their household expenditure to keep their houses at the minimum standard of warmth," she said.

Ms Howden-Chapman said if New Zealand wanted people on low incomes to keep on getting sick and keep on dying, to keep on doing what it is doing.

Housing New Zealand said it recently met with the Labour MP for Manukau East, Jenny Salesa.

A spokesperson said they had agreed the agency would now look into any complaints about the condition of a Housing NZ property that came through Ms Salesa's Facebook page.