24 Jun 2020

Housing NZ's accessible homes goal should be much higher - Disability Rights Commissioner

From Checkpoint, 5:39 pm on 24 June 2020

Last night, Checkpoint reported on a family including a young disabled boy in a wheelchair who've been living in a South Auckland garage for six months because of a lack of suitable housing.

Maria, her 7-year-old son Jerasaiah who has cerebral palsy, and his sister who has epilepsy share a double bed in the garage attached to a granny flat that is used by four generations of the whānau.

The family's on the housing waiting list - after Checkpoint got involved their priority rating went up four spots.

The associate minister, Kris Faafoi who has responsibility for public housing said MSD has apologised to the family and he's asked them to contact the family today and expedite the search for appropriate accommodation.

But that is one family and there are currently 900 people waiting to get into a modified state house.

Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero told Checkpoint the case is not good enough.

"It's fantastic to see that government ministers have intervened in this particular case to expedite the situation for this family, but this case is by no means an isolated one and it is illustrative of the sort of situation that disabled people and their families can face.

"We have, as a country, for a very, very long time have neglected universal design and creating accessible homes. While ministers have intervened in this case, it doesn't solve the issue for other families with disabled family members who are living in similar conditions while they wait for a suitable home.

"I don't think many New Zealanders would find that sort of situation acceptable."

Tesoriero said inaccessible housing is one of the top issues for disabled New Zealanders and it's coming up more often.

"The stories that I hear are completely unacceptable. It's really difficult for people to find acceptable homes."

She said renters find it very difficult to find accessible homes and landlords are often unwilling to make modifications. Those that end up on the Housing New Zealand waitlist find they end up waiting longer due to a lack of accessible home.

It's a problem she's bought up with government ministers and she says they have been very receptive and committed to making improvements.

Housing New Zealand currently has a target of making 15 percent of its homes accessible, but Tesoriero says it should be higher. 

"At least we should be able to meet the demand.

"I think we need to be far more ambitious as a country... if we accept that housing is a fundamental human right and every New Zealander has a right to housing, then we should aim much higher."

Tesoriero told Checkpoint it essentially is a breach of human rights. 

"For disabled people we are certainly not meeting our commitment to ensuring that disabled people have the right to a decent home."

Accessibility involves availability of transport and infrastructure near a home as well, she said.

"We're not really a very accessible country. We like to think that we are but actually we fall short in a number of areas for disabled New Zealanders."