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Healthy homes for all

Remember Emma-Lita Bourne? She died last year from causes the Coroner attributed to the appallingly “unhealthy” state house rented by her family.

Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills says the effects of cold, mouldy and damp housing on kids contributes to 42,000 hospital admissions and 15 deaths each year.

Next week on May 4, National MPs will get the chance to ensure every rental home in New Zealand is warm and dry – by supporting my Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill (No 2).

It is aimed at preventing any more cases like Emma-Lita’s, setting strict guidelines around insulation and heating which all landlords must comply with before they can legally rent out their properties.

It’s about doing what an increasingly callous government has failed to do with its continued protection of slum landlords rather than looking after those in need. And it’s not just our most vulnerable – more middle New Zealand families are renting, locked out of the housing market by soaring prices.

A recent Facebook comment from a woman whose 65-year-old relation “crawls around the walls [of her state house unit] with a mop and a bucket of janola to keep the mould away” is a poignant and timely reminder of why it matters.

A previous Labour Bill that would have ensured every rental home was warm and dry was rejected by the Government last year. Housing Minister Nick Smith argues he’s doing all that’s needed to improve the “deplorable” state of rentals.

Not so. The Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill requires rental homes to be retrofitted with ceiling and underfloor insulation.  It comes into effect in July for state houses, but not until 2019 for other rental – read private - housing.

Nick Smith believes his Bill is a pragmatic and efficient option to the problem, and that alternatives are too expensive and will not prove to be beneficial.

But hang on. There is nothing in it about minimum standards of heating. A 2014 Household Income Report shows the majority of kids living in poverty live in private rentals. Those are the families who can least afford to heat their homes.   

So, once again it’s a half-measure from a Government that wants to look like it’s doing something to address substandard rentals when, in reality, it’s doing very little.  

National has accepted the need to regulate private rental properties by requiring insulation. When temperatures plummet insulation only isn’t going to keep you warm. Why not finish the job and require efficient heating too?

No child, no pensioner, no struggling uni student, no New Zealander, should be living in a hovel. Sadly, some are.

It’s inexcusable in this day and age to be renting out something that is so poorly maintained that it becomes a health hazard. 

The Government has the opportunity to do something about that come May 4, by supporting my Bill.

To read my Bill, click here.