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The Real Cost of Poor Housing

Updated: Mar 8, 2019

According to latest research by Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, preventable injuries and hospitalisations due solely to poor housing conditions could be costing New Zealand up to $165m a year.

Motu researcher Dr Lynn Riggs directly attributes this annual cost to houses that are cold, damp, mouldy or in a state of dangerous disrepair.

The study paints a bleak picture of the human and financial cost of inadequate housing, which is borne largely by the lowest income households:

- Homes that are damp or mouldy cause sickness that leads to more than 35,000 nights spent in hospital each year, costing around $35 million annually

- Nearly 2000 nights in hospital were due to homes being cold, costing more than $2 million a year

- Preventable injuries caused by homes in disrepair cost ACC more than $100 million a year

- Household overcrowding, affecting nearly 10 percent of New Zealand’s population, causes more than 3500 nights in hospital with an associated annual cost of nearly $5 million

Currently 1600 New Zealanders are dying prematurely every year due to cold, damp houses. Those most at risk are the very young and the elderly.

Those living in rental properties report higher levels of substandard accommodation than owner occupiers and are less likely to have the financial means or authority to change their circumstances. Renters and those on lower incomes are also more likely to be exposed to ‘energy hardship,’ meaning it is hard for them to keep warm over winter. In South Auckland the problem is particularly acute.

While the government’s new housing standards are designed to address some of the health issues surrounding rental homes, landlords have until July 2021 to comply with these new standards.

The Root Causes of Preventable Hospitalisation

Overcrowding increases the likelihood of hospitalisation:

- Crowded environments enable infections to spread more easily, including gastroenteritis, meningococcal disease, rheumatic fever and lower respiratory tract infections

Cold or mouldy houses exacerbate infections:

- Houses with indoor temperatures under 16 degrees increase the risk of respiratory infections (the recommended temperature for houses with young, elderly or ill people is 20 degrees)

Poverty/lack of disposable income aggravates illnesses which might otherwise be fought off:

- Poor diets (deficient in fresh fruit and vegetables) compromise the immune system’s response to infection

- Visits to the doctor are deferred and people ‘put up with’ feeling cold

- Funds are not available for utilities and transport

Helping those most in need

Our Mana-ā-riki programme in Papakura is making a real difference to the lives of our most disadvantaged communities.

A simple housing improvement programme designed and run by whānau for whānau helps create warmer, drier, healthier homes. Minor repairs such as bubble-wrapping windows, fitting curtains and stopping drafts make houses warmer and often get rid of mould and dampness too.

We are now fundraising to extend this programme across other suburbs in South Auckland, and we need your help.

Children in our most disadvantaged communities are three times more likely to end up in hospital.* These are appalling odds. The small but significant changes that our Mana-ā-riki programme delivers are having a powerful impact in our poorer communities and ensuring a better future for our tamariki.

Help change the odds now.

*Child Poverty Monitor, 2017, based on government data in the Household Incomes of New Zealand Report.

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