14 Aug 2014

'Woeful housing' risks child health

9:47 am on 14 August 2014

Children are suffering from overcrowded living conditions and risks to their health as rental housing gets not only more expensive but of worse quality, a new report says.

The Child Poverty Action Group says families in Auckland and Christchurch are particularly affected, and more needs to be done to make sure children grow up in warm, dry, and secure homes.

The group says 12.6 percent of homes in South Auckland house at least two families, compared to 2.3 percent of homes in the rest of the country.

170414. Photo Diego Opatowski / RNZ. Empty  house on the red zone, Christchurch.

Empty house in the red zone, Christchurch. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

It says the quality of rental properties is deteriorating, and children's health is being affected by mould and damp.

The group says the eastern suburbs of Christchurch are also under pressure, as rents there have risen by 20-30 percent in the past five years.

Its report recommends developing a national housing plan to meet people's needs.

The Strive Community Trust has been helping families in South Auckland for more than 20 years.

But with the city's increasing population, and rental prices, the trust's chief executive, Sharon Wilson-Davis, said it was not uncommon for local houses to be home to multiple families.

"Very often you will have two and more families. The rents are incredible. They will often find it more economical to have two families and maybe a working single daughter or son paying their share, but out here."

She said some people have no other option, and the area is "way behind the ball" in terms of the number of houses needed.

"A lot of the family houses out here have converted garages that are fully lined garages which are insulated and they will turn them into living quarters.

"There's just nothing else we can offer them so we've got to make the best of what we've got and if it means insulating a garage or having bunks - we're just trying to make it more habitable than what it might otherwise be."

Christchurch housing 'inadequate'

The group's co-convenor and spokesperson, Alan Johnson, said eastern suburbs of Christchurch were also under pressure.

Abandoned state houses in Christchurch.

Abandoned state houses in Christchurch post February 2011 earthquake. Photo: PHOTO NZ

He said successive governments had failed to provide the right policies, or enough funding to make a difference.

"While they're rolled out with great gusto and great enthusiasm if you actually look at the number of dollars behind them and divide that by the number of houses you're going to build, you're only talking about dozens of houses.

"And we're saying - look, that's woefully inadequate and has been woefully inadequate for the life of this government and for much of the time of the previous one."

The latest report makes six recommendations, including establishing a warrant of fitness scheme for rental properties.

The director of the Housing and Health Research Programme, University of Otago Wellington professor Philippa Howden-Chapman, said insulation is essential.

"There's a large proportion of the population that can't afford to heat their house and even a well constructed home unless it's a passive house - requires some heating for it to be at a temperature that's warm enough, particularly for children and elderly people."

The other recommendations include a government commitment to build an extra 1000 social housing units a year, and the development of a national housing plan to anticipate and provide for future housing needs.