Life in severe housing deprivation in New Zealand

There’s a lot in the news about housing this week.

But the story that I read this week that I keep thinking about is the one on a coroner’s report. The tragic event of a baby’s death provides a shocking insight into the conditions a family can live in in New Zealand.

At the time of the death, ten people lived in the privately rented, three-bedroom house. Eleven people lived there in the weekends, when the baby’s father returned from work in Christchurch. The baby’s bedroom had poor ventilation, black mould growing on the ceiling, and excess moisture on the windows. A blanket had been placed over the window to try to keep the room warm.

From the article, it seems that the family thought they were on the waiting list for a Housing NZ house – indeed, a Plunket nurse had written to Housing NZ about the issues facing the family – but Housing NZ has since said that they were not.

The awful thing about reading this report is knowing that the conditions the family were living in are far from unusual. There are 34,000 people living in circumstances like this. Dr Kate Amore has put the numbers together in a report for Statistics NZ:

“[In 2006] 34,000 people were crowding in with family or friends, staying in boarding houses, camping grounds, emergency accommodation, in cars, or on the street. They all had low incomes,” Dr Amore says.

“Many of these people are excluded from poverty and unemployment statistics, and are not on social housing waiting lists. ” [ …]

A quarter of severely housing deprived people were children under 15 years, living in these inadequate situations with their family, she says. About a third of the adults in the population were working, but still could not get a house for themselves or their family.

“We know that housing shortages, poverty, and crowding are very serious problems in New Zealand, so these findings are not surprising. We expect the problem is bigger now than it was in 2006.

“This study just adds to the evidence that housing is major issue, and we need a lot more quality housing that people on low incomes can afford to live in,” Dr Amore says.

We need this desperately.

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