28 Jun 2019

Family desperate to leave freezing HNZ home

From Checkpoint, 5:35 pm on 28 June 2019

As the deadline closes in for the government's Healthy Homes standards, families living in state homes say they need much more than extra insulation to keep their children warm and healthy.

The new standards require all rental properties to have heaters that can heat a living-room to 18 degrees, ventilation fans in kitchens and bathrooms, and ceiling and underfloor insulation.

The insulation requirement comes into effect on Monday, with landlords required to bring in the rest of the standards within 90 days of any new tenancy by July 2021.

However that timeline doesn't apply to Housing New Zealand (HNZ) homes, which has an extra two years to be brought up to scratch.

Housing advocates say that's not good enough - and the government needs to lead by example by making its homes warm and dry ahead of private rentals, not years after.

The 18 degree temperature target for 2023 seems a long way from the conditions that Sara*, her husband and six children are living in at their South Auckland home.

The family is squeezed into a two-bedroom HNZ home, which meets current building standards for insulation and ventilation and has been through the agency's 'warm and dry programme'.

Sara said that made no difference, with the home constantly freezing and cramped.

"It's like if you're talking, like right now, it's like you're blowing out smoke. It's like you're waking up outside.

"It just feels like you're camping outside, that's what it is," she said.

She said the small lounge heater provided by HNZ - the home's only heat source - did nothing to warm it, and was too expensive to run.

The family open the windows every morning to help air the house out - but that also means the cold winter air comes streaming in.

A thermometer shows the temperature in the bedroom is nine degrees - it's slightly warmer in the lounge at 10 degrees.

Sarah said the freezing conditions took their toll on her kids.

"My kids constantly moan because they do get sick quite frequently, because of what they're breathing in and out. The mould is like extra."

Auckland Action Against Poverty spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez said Sara's home was a clear sign that current housing standards were far too low.

"This is your standard Housing New Zealand home where, despite having a degree of insulation, by design becomes damp, cold and unfortunately a source of health conditions for the families who live there."

He said homes across New Zealand were poorly designed and changes needed to be made to ensure future public housing was built to a much higher standard.

New Zealand Green Building Council chief executive Andrew Eagles said HNZ's 2023 deadline for the Healthy Homes standards could be significantly better.

"If we want to change these homes, why not move the more vulnerable to the head of the queue, that's going to have significant benefits for large numbers of people, more vulnerable people and often in overcrowded situations," Mr Eagles said.

"Forty percent of our homes are cold and damp and mouldy and that's a huge shame on New Zealand."

Sara said she had requested HNZ transfer her and her family to a larger, warmer home, and has so far been waiting 10 months to be moved.

She said she had little faith it would happen anytime soon.

"I honestly think that they don't care, because if they cared enough they would've come and fixed up the house, but they keep dragging it, you know? 

"But I have to put up with it because I have no other choice."

In a statement, Housing New Zealand said 99 percent of its properties were fully compliant with the relevant sections of the RTA and building codes, and it was working towards all properties being fully compliant with the new Healthy Homes Guarantees Act ahead of the 1 July 2023 deadline. 

*Not her real name