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Measuring housing quality in New Zealand

This chapter describes how New Zealand currently measures housing quality and homelessness, and outlines six aspects of housing quality that could be measured:

Housing Improvement Regulations 1947

The only legislative measures of housing quality in New Zealand derive from the Housing Improvement Regulations 1947. These regulations include stipulations around provision of sewerage, freedom from dampness, and minimum sanitary facilities for the number of inhabitants.

See appendix 1 for an extract from these regulations.

New Zealand definition of homelessness

Statistics NZ, in conjunction with other agencies, recently developed a definition of homelessness that included a section on dwelling quality (Statistics NZ, 2009a). The definition included ‘living in an uninhabitable dwelling’ and ‘living in an improvised dwelling’ as being forms of homelessness.

The uninhabitable housing category covers dilapidated dwellings that have inadequate or absent utility services. However, dwellings that are cold, damp, leaky, or not insulated, and not dilapidated are excluded from the uninhabitable housing category.

Dilapidated buildings are buildings that are in an advanced state of deterioration, to the point of being uninhabitable by current social norms. Indicators may include: surroundings unkempt or overgrown, extensive exterior deterioration, roof is not weatherproof, doors and windows broken or not secure, essential services have been cut, interior is bare and deteriorating, and evidence of vandalism. Dilapidated buildings are included in the Statistical standard for dwelling occupancy status (Statistics NZ, nd).

Improvised dwellings are dwellings or shelters not necessarily erected for human habitation, but which are occupied. The structure will support a roof of some kind, no matter how roughly fashioned or makeshift. It will lack some or all of the usual household amenities such as electric lighting, piped water, bathroom, toilet, and kitchen/cooking facilities. Examples include shacks, garages, and private vehicles other than those designed as, or converted into, dwellings. Improvised dwellings are included in the Statistical standard for occupied dwelling type (Statistics NZ, nd).

The type of dwellings described above would definitely be considered to be below a standard of adequacy; however, no official statistics currently measure uninhabitable or dilapidated housing.

See New Zealand definition of homelessness for more information about this definition (Statistics NZ, 2009a).

The Healthy Housing Index

The most comprehensive recent New Zealand work on housing quality comes from He Kainga Oranga Housing and Health Research Programme (Healthy Housing Index, nd, a). The programme has carried out a number of housing studies that have evaluated the outcomes of housing interventions, such as the provision of insulation.

It has also developed the Healthy Housing Index (Healthy Housing, nd, b), which rates housing based on a number of categories. He Kainga Oranga trialled this index to evaluate housing against a standard and to provide a basis for a national standard definition of housing quality as recommended by the 2009 Review of Housing Statistics.

The Healthy Housing Index is based on He Kainga Oranga’s previous intervention studies and is divided into three modules: Injury Index, Respiratory Index, and Energy Index, and is a well-researched measure of housing quality (Gillespie-Bennett, Keall, Baker, Howden-Chapmen, 2013.Trained observers or building inspectors carry out inspections. They assign a score to each module, which contributes to the overall dwelling rating.

Figure 3 shows a sample from the safety module in the Healthy Housing assessment.

Figure 4 shows a sample of the home assessment summary rating.

Figure 3
Excerpt from the safety module in the Healthy Housing Index assessment

Image, Excerpt from the safety module in the Healthy Housing Index assessment.

Figure 4
Example of a Healthy Housing Index ‘approved’ sticker

Image, Example of a Healthy Housing Index approved sticker.

Source: J Gillespie-, presentation to Health Statistics Users Group meeting, 2013.

Suggested key aspects of housing quality information from 2009 Review of Housing Statistics

The 2009 Review of Housing Statistics identified some key aspects of housing quality that could be collected in New Zealand, but are not currently measured (Statistics NZ, 2009b). These key areas are the: 

  • physical attributes of the housing stock: including facilities such as baths and toilets, and materials of roof/floor/walls
  • physical defects (quality): the prevalence, type, and repair costs of physical defects that affect habitability, including weather-tightness issues (eg houses affected by ‘leaky-building syndrome’), structural soundness, means of escape from fire, or natural-disaster effects
  • physical characteristics related to health and sustainability: the existence and use of insulation/heating/ventilation
  • characteristics of the dwelling’s inhabitants: the number/type of occupants and their needs, their tenure status, and how they use the house (eg heating and ventilation choices, proactive or deferred maintenance)
  • information about the physical state of the neighbourhood: noise, vibration, traffic fumes, crime, graffiti etc can affect the physical and mental health of inhabitants
  • international comparability: how do New Zealand houses compare internationally?

These information need to align with OECD guidelines (OECD, 2011) for collecting information about housing quality.

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