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Aspects of housing quality to measure

This chapter examines international recommendations around the aspects of housing quality that should be measured, and cites the Scottish Housing Condition Survey as an example of good practice: 

OECD’s recommendations for housing quality measurement

The OECD (2011) regards producing better and more-consistent measures of housing quality internationally as an important area for statistical agencies to develop. It recommends that, where possible, physical measurement of the quality of dwellings (such as building inspections) should complement survey information. Housing quality indicators should measure the physical characteristics of the dwelling and the broader environmental characteristics of the area.

The OECD has identified the following areas as crucial to understanding housing quality internationally: 

  • number of bedrooms (as they provide a better measure than the number of rooms and a better indication of personal living space)
  • provision of electricity, water supply, indoor toilets, cooking facilities
  • quality of construction materials and the extent to which they have been maintained
  • indoor air quality
  • thermal insulation (energy efficiency)
  • dampness and mould (associated with asthma)
  • exposure to noise
  • indoor air quality.

Additional recommendations

In addition to the basic recommendations, the OECD recommends that the following information would be useful to collect:

  • residential setting of dwellings and the neighbourhood – access to green spaces, outdoor lighting
  • breaking down indicators by tenure and geography
  • better information about housing costs and financial stress due to unaffordability.

Housing quality can also be related to other aspects of housing such as suitability, and other domains such as environmental sustainability.

Measures of housing quality can also include aspects of housing that contribute to environmental sustainability, but do not immediately affect the well-being of occupants. For example, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority’s (EECA) home rating system includes measures of environmental sustainability, such as the presence of composting and grey-water systems. Pest infestations can also be an indicator of housing quality, as the presence of pests such as cockroaches and rodents can increase allergens or directly contaminate food, as well as cause psychological distress.

Additional information needs may relate to housing design and whether a dwelling is suitable for its inhabitants. Examples include whether housing is suitable for disabled and older people and to accommodate different cultural practices. Housing New Zealand (2004) developed design guidelines for Māori, which provide appropriate design standards for the following situations: urban individual whānau housing, urban papakāinga housing (individual private dwellings centred around communal facilities), rural whānau houses (multiple buildings designed to cater for large rural whānau), and rural papakāinga housing. Facilities in these dwellings should be located appropriately; for example, bathrooms and toilets kept separate from kitchens. Housing New Zealand (2002) has also developed a similar set of design standards for Pacific peoples.

Scotland’s rating systems for housing

One example of good practice is Scotland’s Tolerable Housing Standard and Scottish Housing Quality Standard, which are used to rate houses. The Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 allows for intervention if homes fall below the Tolerable Standard (a condemnatory standard). The Act notes the Tolerable Standard focuses only on the building itself, and does not extend to internal decoration, heating systems, or other utilities in the house. The Tolerable Standard applies to houses of all tenures.

The Scottish Government (2009) states that a house meets the Tolerable Standard if it:

  • is structurally stable
  • is substantially free from rising or penetrating damp
  • has satisfactory provision for natural and artificial lighting, ventilation, and heating
  • has satisfactory thermal insulation
  • has an adequate piped supply of wholesome water available within the house
  • has a sink provided with a satisfactory supply of both hot and cold water within the house
  • has a water closet or waterless closet available for the exclusive use of the occupants of the house and suitably located within the house
  • has a fixed bath or shower and a wash-hand basin, each provided with a satisfactory supply of both hot and cold water and suitably located within the house
  • has an effective system for the drainage and disposal of foul and surface water
  • in the case of a house having a supply of electricity, complies with the relevant requirements in relation to the electrical installations for the purposes of that supply
    • ‘the electrical installation’ is the electrical wiring and associated components and fittings, but excludes equipment and appliances
    • ‘the relevant requirements’ are that the electrical installation is adequate and safe to use
  • has satisfactory facilities for the cooking of food within the house
  • has satisfactory access to all external doors and outbuildings.

The Scottish Government notes that in order to meet the Tolerable Standard, a house must comply with all the criteria. Failing to meet just one criterion gives a ‘fail’ grade and the dwelling is designated as ‘Below Tolerable Standard’. All social rental dwellings must pass this standard by 2015.

The Scottish Government also applies the Scottish Housing Quality Standard, which sits above the Tolerable Housing Standard. This higher standard includes five higher-level criteria that provide a single pass or fail classification for all dwellings. The Scottish Government (2009) says the five higher-level criteria are that the dwelling must be:

  • above the statutory Tolerable Standard
  • free from serious disrepair
  • energy efficient
  • with modern facilities and services
  • healthy, safe, and secure.

The Scottish Housing Condition Survey

The Scottish Housing Condition survey monitors both the Tolerable Standard and the Scottish Housing Quality Standard for the Scottish Government. The survey measures 60 separate housing components, which are aggregated under the five Housing Quality Standard criteria, and reported upon. From 2012 onwards, this survey was combined with the Scottish Household Survey. The combined survey selected a subsample of people and dwellings to answer the housing condition component.

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