16 Oct 2020

MPs lay out their strategies for fixing unhealthy homes

8:35 am on 16 October 2020

Respiratory diseases are New Zealand's third most common cause of death after cancer and heart disease, and Pacific people are the hardest hit.

Damp and mold on window and frame.

Photo: 123RF

According to the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ (2018), across all age groups, hospitalisation rates are 2.5 percent higher for Pacific people for respiratory diseases, than for other ethnic groups.

Chronic and serious respiratory illnesses continue to make a substantial contribution to New Zealand's health burden.

Pacific and Māori shared the highest respiratory health burden. Pacific hospitalisation rates were consistently highest across all indicators (asthma, bronchiectasis, childhood bronchiolitis and pneumonia) except for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), where Māori rates were higher.

National Party List MP Fonoti Agnes Loheni knows very well what it was like living with someone with a respiratory illness.

"One of my sisters is asthmatic and I remember when she was younger, she spent a lot of time in hospital and we spent our early part of our upbringing in a state house, which were not well insulated.

"As a result, she ended up being behind in school, to the point where she ended up being in the same year as my other younger sister, as the two are a year apart.

National's Fonoti Agnes Loheni

National's Fonoti Agnes Loheni Photo: Jogai Bhatt

"This was simply because she spent a lot of time away from school.

"I remember how scared my parents would be every time she got an asthma attack. Often it was late at night and so we would go straight to the hospital. There were times where we were fortunate to have our family doctor very kindly see us instead at night, if the emergency department was full," she recalls.

Mapui Tangi, a bronchiectasis nurse specialist at Auckland's Starship Hospital, says it's a reflection of what she sees every winter - many Pacific families presenting with bronchitis, pneumonia and bronchiolitis concerns.

"Poor housing is largely to blame," Tangi said.

"People living in the most deprived households are admitted to the hospital for respiratory illnesses.

"They spend more money heating the house and less money for food for their children.

"Pacific families tell me that their houses are cold and damp, so when they wake up in the morning, their windows are wet, and they have to wipe it off all the time.

"Dampness leads to mould and then triggers respiratory symptoms."

Tangi is adamant that more affordable, warm and drier houses are needed to help address this major health issue in Pacific communities.

"A warmer house leads to improvement in the health for most of our children here in hospital with respiratory conditions, especially for children as they are still growing and developing.

Starship Hospital

Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

'Fit for purpose housing'

To curb respiratory diseases, Loheni said the National Party wants to build more houses that are fit for purpose.

"What we are going to do is reform the RMA and that's to do with making sure that there's enough land supply to build houses.

"The thing that has happened is that rent has gone up in the last couple of years, on average $50 a week and so the issue there is we've got a blow out in the wait list for social housing.

"When National was last in government, Labour accused them of having 5,000 people on the wait list and it's now blown out to just under 20,000, so we have to ensure that we are building houses and ensure the houses are of quality and fit for a family.

"We are going to continue to support the Healthy Home Provision to ensure that everybody does have a warm, dry home and this is for Housing New Zealand properties as well as private landlords," she said.

'Homes for all'

Green Party candidate Teanau Tuiono said boosting Pacific health services is a priority.

Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson

Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

"We'll be looking to increasing public health funding and resources for wellness and preventative health measures and we'll ensure everyone can have access to healthcare services regardless of their ability to pay and at the earlier stage possible.

Tuiono explained that their Homes for All policy is aimed at getting homes to support peoples' wellbeing.

"We know 44 percent of children are growing up in rental accommodation and they are living in damp houses and we know that it disproportionately impacts Māori, Pacific and new migrant communities."

"I think the Healthy Homes Standards introduced by the current government is a big step forward for renters, but we need to do a bit more.

"We would like to see two additional changes, which are needed to ensure these standards deliver warm homes for all renters, and that is we want to extend the temperature requirement to 18 degrees for fixed heating source of the bedrooms in rental houses and also introduce proper rental housing warrant of fitness.

"It has the flow on effect to everything and if homes are stable, if they're warm and good for our health, then it is also good for our children as well and it encourages people to actually build deep roots into the communities and if you've got a stable home life then that flows through to everything like education."

'Health homes and hearts'

Healthy homes, healthy children and healthy hearts are the focus of a new policy by the Labour Party designed to drive down our rates of rheumatic fever.

If re-elected, Labour plan to invest an additional $55 million over four years to tackle the root causes of rheumatic fever through our health and housing agencies.

"It is unacceptable that poor quality housing is causing lifelong heart damage, as well as swelling and pain in joints and skin, and increased risk of asthma and other respiratory illness. The problem is much worse for Māori and Pasifika children," Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said.

No caption

Photo: RNZ Pacific / Sela Jane Hopgood

This week Labour MP Jenny Salesa attended the opening of new transitional and social housing in Papakura and Manurewa by Penina Health Trust; the only Pacific community housing provider in Aotearoa.

"The Chief Executive of Penina Health Trust told me that by the end of this year, they would have 100 housing places for their clients, who are mainly of Pacific descent, but of course the housing is open to all groups.,

"Just seeing how some of the people they serve, how happy they are and the kind of comprehensive wraparound services that Penina Health Trust do is very heart-warming.

Salesa said that overcrowded housing is also a contributing factor to the increase in respiratory diseases in the Pacific community and it is why Labour are committed to delivering thousands of social and transitional housing by 2024.

"We've said publicly that we will deliver 18,000 public and transitional homes over four years.

"We know we need to build more houses. When we came into government, the previous government sold off a lot of the state houses.

"One of the first things we did was stop the selling of state houses right away. We also stopped overseas people from speculating by allowing them to come through and buy houses in New Zealand."

State houses in Northcote

Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Both NZ First and Act party were approached for comment, but did not respond in time.

Due to Covid-19, Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ have had to delay the release of their next research and the earliest the updated impact report will be published is early 2021.

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