A public health specialist says Māori are over-represented
in the number of people who die in low rental
Michael Baker, the University of Otago's Housing and Health
Research Programme co-director, says the kind of loss of life where
three young people recently died in a Hamilton rental property
happens regularly - and Māori are over-represented in the
Professor Michael Baker
Professor Baker says tāngata whenua are
being left to fend for themselves in dangerous low-end rental
properties and more state housing is needed to combat the
Social housing is of a higher standard that improves people's
health and safety, he says, particularly that of Māori and
His research team has been doing a study for nearly 10 years and
found that Māori make up a third of occupants in social housing and
half are children under 20 years old.
"We now know a lot about the people who live in social housing
and they are a vulnerable group. You have to be amongst the poorest
5 percent of New Zealanders to even get through the door of a
Housing New Zealand home. People's health improves hugely when they
move into social housing from the private market and increasing the
number of state houses is an important investment.
"Housing markets are very bad for poor people, and what we are
seeing in New Zealand now is a tidal shift towards becoming a
rental society. If you look at the last few census periods, you can
see that in 1986, three-quarters of the population were
owner-occupiers, and we're now down in the last census to around
"We can see a future in our life time where the majority of New
Zealanders will be renting their homes and that would not be a bad
thing if we had a tradition of high quality social housing that was
owned by councils or Housing New Zealand equivalents, was very
well-maintained and people had really great security of tenure, but
the private rental market does not provide that. The evidence is
that a lot of rental housing is very poor quality.
"It's potentially very grim for Māori, as under 50% own their
own homes and if they are going to be thrown to the mercies of the
private rental market representatives of the Māori community should
be very concerned about this trend."
Govt change in philosophy
Professor Michael Baker says the Government needs to reverse its
social housing policy and build more.
"They are a key investment for reducing child poverty and
improving the health of Māori and Pacific children, in particular.
The wholesale selling off of Housing New Zealand properties is not
a substitute for a housing policy. It seems quite bizarre to be
doing that in isolation."
Professor Baker believes there has been a change in philosophy
on the Government's part since the early 2000s. He says his team
worked closely then with Housing New Zealand when they were rolling
out their Healthy Housing Programme in Auckland and then extended
to Northland and Wellington.
He says it had high-quality linked-up services and upgraded the
houses. It was found the programme reduced hospitalisations of
young people by 20 to 30 percent, but it was discontinued
"They had an agenda of not just being landlords, but being
concerned about the health and well-being of their tenants and they
really acted accordingly. The Meningococcal disease was raging at
the time and they said they didn't want any more children dying in
their houses. They really made a big commitment to implement the
Healthy Housing programme."
Professor Baker says the evidence shows that they did a
fantastic job in those years and reduced household crowding which
causes many diseases such as rheumatic fever.
"My experience of Housing New Zealand is that they are a
remarkably good landlord, but what I see now is that they are being
systematically eroded in terms of their standing and capability.
Their capacity and mandate has been greatly diminished. Instead of
them saying, 'Yes our job is to deliver more comprehensive services
for our tenants', it's really retreating to being a landlord of
Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett provided the following
statement in response.
"Professor Baker is making a number of assumptions that are not
based on fact. The Government's social housing reforms are focused
on ensuring more New Zealanders have access to warm, dry,
"We are currently working through the options on how best to
provide this, which will include talking with community
organisations, iwi, the private sector and local authorities. It's
important we get this right and we have a process to go through
before any decisions are made."