Housing WOFs will see children thrive

Child Poverty Action Group is calling for this Government to rethink their rental housing strategy and instate mandatory a Warrant of Fitness (WoF) for all rental properties across New Zealand to save children’s lives and lessen their illnesses.

In June 2014 the Government reported on a trial Housing WoF with Housing New Zealand properties, and found only 4% met all standards. In July 2015 they backed down on a policy to enforce regulations for all rental houses to meet the same standards. Instead the Residential Tenancies Act Amendment Bill is a diluted version of the original plan: all rented properties must have a smoke alarm and be insulated by 2019, but there is no WoF to ensure compliance.

Professor Innes Asher, Health and Housing spokesperson for Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) says that the Bill is a "small step in the right direction" but it falls desperately short in terms of providing all New Zealand children the equal opportunity to thrive. In her oral submission, Professor Asher stated that the current Bill was "dangerously inadequate" considering the numbers of children admitted to hospital as a result of substandard housing, with preventable diseases like pneumonia and bronchiectasis (permanent lung scarring), which can cause an early death. 

The Bill also avoids the fundamental issue that some houses simply are not able to be insulated and should therefore be considered ‘not fit for purpose’. CPAG considers that a humane, child-centred approach to the regulations is required, making landlords responsible for providing essential amenities including provisions for safety, warmth and ventilation.

Despite the recent insulation subsidies provided, the reach has not been nearly not wide enough. Most tenanted rental houses remain uninsulated. Unsurprisingly, it is mostly homeowners who have taken advantage of the insulation subsidies. According to CPAG Law and Housing spokesperson Frank Hogan, "Most poor families live in private rental accommodation." So while it remains voluntary for rental property owners to insulate their houses, children of low-income families continue to suffer in the worst conditions, as adequate accommodation becomes less and less affordable. 

Now Building and Housing Minister Nick Smith has taken a complete turn against a housing WoF scheme in light of recent submissions for the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill. He considers it to be too costly and that landlords would be subjected to the scrutiny of "clipboard Charlies".

Frank Hogan says that with the $1 billion of taxpayer money going into the accommodation supplement, there must be some form of regulation to ensure that that money is well spent and that children are benefiting. According to Hogan, "Rentals are almost twice as likely to be in poor condition as owner-occupied homes. This is unacceptable and New Zealanders should expect better value for public expenditure. Families need homes that are both healthy and affordable to provide a stable environment where children can thrive." 

"If car owners are expected to pay for WoFs as a public safety measure, taxpayers should expect that rental owners do the same with their houses," says Hogan. "The owners should pay."

But Nick Smith dismisses any need for a WoF on the flimsy grounds that renters will eventually foot the costs. This is why Child Poverty Action Group state that Government needs to address housing conditions and housing affordability in tandem. 

Child Poverty Action Group recommends that as well as implementing a housing WoF to improve children’s lives, the Government should develop a ten year national plan to overcome the shortage of affordable housing.

For more information visit: FAQ Healthy and affordable housing