Last month, a coroner ruled a damp Housing New Zealand home may
have contributed to the
death of a two-year-old girl.
The coroner, Brandt Shortland, said the condition of the
family's state house in Otara may have been a factor in the death
of Emma-Lita Bourne, who was suffering from pneumonia when she died
from a brain bleed.
Professor Michael Baker, from the University of Otago,
specialises in environmental health and housing, and is also a
He said, given young children spend about 90 percent of their
time at home, the health and safety of that environment was
critical to their wellbeing.
Dr Baker said previous research had shown a strong link between
respiratory disease and living in cold and overcrowded housing.
He said low income families in Aotearoa were typically living in
rental housing which was of lower quality than owner-occupied
housing - and something needed to be done.
"Putting all of this together, there is a very strong case for a
basic housing warrant of fitness for rental housing," he said.
"At the very least, this should be a requirement for all social
housing which receives government funding, which would include
Housing New Zealand properties and those occupied by people
receiving the accommodation supplement."
He said, last year, the University of Otago collaborated with
the New Zealand Green Building Council, ACC and five councils to
pilot test a housing warrant of fitness (WOF).
"This test showed that WOF was practical and acceptable. It also
showed that the majority of properties had defects, but that many
of these could be easily rectified," he said.
"Our published research has shown that there are highly
significant health benefits from three essential upgrades,
insulation, efficient heating, such as heat pumps, and home safety
He said other research has identified the importance of reducing
household crowding for protecting children from serious infectious
Dr Baker is currently leading a national case-control study to
investigate risk factors for rheumatic fever, which investigates a
range of housing risk factors including crowding, cold, damp and
Last month, the Minister Responsible for Housing New Zealand,
Bill English, called on the agency to act quickly to ensure people
were not living in unhealthy state houses.
Mr English said there was now much better use of information to
ensure families, with children who had rheumatic fever for
instance, were properly housed.
He said Housing New Zealand had spent a lot of time and money
upgrading its housing, but
more had to be done.