CPAG urges support for Labour's Healthy Homes Bill

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) says that Labour party leader Andrew Little's Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill (No 2) should be supported when it is debated in Parliament today because it will be a big step forward for the health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of New Zealand’s children and their families, helping the most disadvantaged the most.

The changes proposed by Government in the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill will introduce minimum standards for rental housing, but are too weak. These will include compulsory smoke alarm installation and insulation of private rental properties (by 2019) by landlords. However, ‘specific exemptions’ will be allowed for in yet to be released regulations. CPAG says that the changes do not go far enough, and do little to make much difference. 

The Amendment Bill’s standard for insulation is the 1978 standard for those already insulated, not the updated 2008 standard in Little’s Bill. ‘Specific exemptions’ may include the large number of older houses which are unable to be insulated. A Bill that is concerned with safety and health should rule such houses unfit for purpose unless they meet the minimum standard. Other loopholes in the Bill may see landlords able to easily opt out of what in effect are just voluntary obligations. 

Currently many houses built before 2000 do not have insulation and furthermore are not required to install it. Evidence shows that tenanted housing tends to be in worse condition and inadequately insulated compared to owner-occupied housing. 

CPAG housing spokesperson Innes Asher says, "As a country we do not accept forty-year old standards for the safety of our cars or our road design, yet the idea of having very low standards for the safety and comfort of some of our homes is not questioned." 

Concern that the costs of imposing greater regulations will fall to tenants is ill-founded. New Zealand is currently experiencing a greater than normal inflation in rents which, in many parts of the country, are now rising faster than wages and salaries. Given this inflation, it seems unlikely that landlords will be significantly out of pocket long-term for the few thousand dollars spent on ensuring their houses are warm, safer homes for their tenants. 

Many of the 40,000 hospital admissions of children for preventable illness each year can be attributed to poor housing conditions. 

Child Poverty Action Group says that introducing the minimum standards outlined in Andrew Little's Bill will go a long way to reducing preventable hospital admissions that are costly to children, families and the nation. In order to avoid tragedies such as that of Emma-Lita Bourne’s death from pneumonia, we must take the question of insulation and housing quality far more seriously.