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Cold New Zealand council housing getting an upgrade

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

University of Otago, Wellington researchers are advocating for standards to bring all New Zealand housing up to the World Health Organization (WHO) minimum standard which recommends indoor temperature of 18oC.

The Wellington City Council is part way through a 20-year programme to upgrade its social housing, co-funded by the Clark Labour government. One aim is to make the housing warmer and drier, and the Council is working with the university researchers to check if this is happening.

A study, just published in the journal Policy Quarterly, led by Lara Rangiwhetu from He Kainga Oranga/ Housing and Health Research Programme at the University of Otago, Wellington, has looked at 49 homes in Council Housing in Wellington (pre-upgrade) and confirmed that they were too cold.

"Before the upgrade, housing was colder and more humid than is recommended for tenants’ health," says Ms Rangiwhetu.

The researchers found, in the houses monitored for the study, two thirds of the time indoor temperatures were lower than 16o C, where resistance to respiratory disease is diminished, and for nine per cent of the time, dwellings were below 12o C. When temperatures get to this low level, they are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

An average mean indoor living room temperature of 14.9o C also appears to be colder than found in the latest national studies, with average living room temperatures for the Southern North Island recorded as 16.1oC in the 1999, 2002-2004 Household Energy End-Use Project (HEEP) and 16.6 oC in the 1971/72 Household Electricity Survey.

"This means that for a lot of the time these Council houses were uncomfortably and unhealthily cold," says Lara Rangiwhetu.

"Unfortunately, we know this is not uncommon for New Zealand housing. But what is positive is that Wellington City Council has been investing in their housing and we look forward to the completion of the new Council housing at Arlington and the potential positive impact this will have for occupants."

As part of their advocacy for healthier homes, the University of Otago researchers are supportive of a number of concerted measures that Wellington City Council and the Central Government are carrying out including free home energy assessments for

Wellington ratepayers, a voluntary WOF scheme for Wellington landlords, insulation subsidies and winter energy payments to eligible New Zealanders, and policy changes under the newly passed Healthy Homes Guarantee Act.

Other temperate countries, such as the United Kingdom, have seen a documented increase in indoor temperature, with average temperatures above the recommended minimum, so there is no reason for New Zealand not to be also achieving these temperatures in homes.

Councillor Brian Dawson commented that "seeing all Wellingtonians well housed is a part of the Council’s vision for the city and the core principle of our Housing Strategy. As a housing provider we’re proud to say our own tenants are at the heart of this. Upgrading our portfolio, the second largest in New Zealand, is a massive challenge but it’s one we’re committed to meeting head on."

"Already we’ve upgraded around half our properties, winning praise within the housing industry with both the standard of work carried out and the way we’ve worked with our tenants to achieve this. Over the coming years we are investing more in our social housing to continue this work and continue to lead by example in this field. Studies like this are evidence of the importance of good quality housing. That’s why we as a Council have recognised this and have made this a priority."

The full article ‘Cold New Zealand council housing getting an upgrade’

is freely available online in Policy Quarterly:

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