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Analysis of perceived housing problems

In 2010/11, the majority of New Zealanders surveyed did not report any major problems with the house or flat they lived in. However, more than one-third (37 percent) did report having a major problem. The main problems the respondents said they had were the ‘house is too cold or difficult to heat/keep warm’, the ‘house is too small’, or the ‘house is damp’.

Table 1 shows all of the problems collected in the survey and the number of people who said they had each problem, as a proportion of the total New Zealand population.

Table 1

Proportion of New Zealand population and number of people reporting each major housing problem
Problem  Percent  Number of people 
Too cold or difficult to heat/keep warm   15  525,000 
Too small  11  387,000 
Damp   10  343,000 
Has pests, such as mice or insects  259,000 
In poor condition  217,000 
Too expensive  183,000 
Hard to get to from the street  74,000 

Source: Statistics New Zealand

The remainder of the analysis in this report focuses on the main three housing problems New Zealanders said they had – cold, damp, and smallness. We analysed a selection of factors to determine which, if any, might influence these perceived problems. These factors were:

  • age and ethnicity
  • family type
  • material standard of living
  • household income
  • dwelling tenure
  • region.

When these factors were considered together, the analysis indicated that standard of living was the most strongly associated with the three perceived housing problems. Region exerted no influence. The apparent influence of some factors, like ethnicity and family type, was largely explained by the prior influence of standard of living.

People with lower standards of living more likely to report their houses as cold, damp, or small

We found that perceptions of housing quality were strongly associated with people’s material standard of living.

The NZGSS uses the economic standard of living index (ELSI) to assess people’s material standard of living. Information from a set of questions is combined to place people on a scale: from ‘severe hardship’ at one end, to a ‘very good’ standard of living at the other (Jensen, Spittal, & Krishnan, 2005, p4). (See the methodological section for more information about the index.)

The likelihood of reporting a major housing problem declined as a person’s material standard of living increased. People experiencing severe or significant material hardship were three to four times more likely to report a major housing problem than people enjoying a good or very good standard of living.

  • Nearly three-quarters (74 percent, or 85,000 people) of those in ‘severe’ material hardship, and 70 percent (91,000 people) of those in ‘significant’ hardship, reported a major housing problem. Together these people represented 5 percent of the total New Zealand population aged 18 years and over.
  • 16 percent of people (72,000) with a ‘very good’ standard of living reported a major housing problem, as did 25 percent (287,000) of those with a ‘good’ standard of living.

Table 2

Proportion and number of people reporting the three main housing problems, by material living standard level
ELS level   House is damp  House is too cold  House is too small 
Percent  Number of people  Percent  Number of people  Percent  Number of people 
Severe hardship 32  36,000  45  51,000  31  35,000 
Significant hardship  28  36,000  35  46,000  24  31,000 
Some hardship  20  40,000  28  57,000  19  38,000 
Fairly comfortable  16  69,000  24  106,000  17  75,000 
Comfortable  10  72,000  17  123,000  12  86,000 
Good  68,000  97,000  83,000 
Very good  11,000  24,000  16,000 

Source: Statistics New Zealand

Income not strongly associated with the three main perceived problems, especially smallness

After placing people in one of four household income bands, we found that income was not as strongly associated with the three main perceived problems as people’s material standard of living. But people in the lowest-income households were more likely than people in the highest-income households to say they lived in houses that were damp or too cold.

Of people in the lowest household income band:

  • twice as many (13 percent, or 68,000 people) reported living in a damp house than did people with household incomes over $100,000 (7 percent, or 80,000 people)
  • 19 percent (100,000 people) reported living in a cold house, compared with 12 percent of people with household incomes over $100,000 (138,000 people).

There were no significant differences in perceptions of the three housing problems for people in the two middle income bands, except:

  • people in households with incomes between $70,001 and $100,000 were less likely than those in households with incomes of $30,000 or less to find their house too cold
  • people in households with incomes between $30,001 and $70,000 were more likely than those in households with incomes over $100,000 to say their house was damp or small. 

Table 3

Proportion and number of people reporting the three main housing problems, by household income
Household income   House is damp  House is too cold  House is too small 
Percent  Number of people  Percent  Number of people  Percent  Number of people 
$30,000 or less  13  68,000  19  100,000  10  54,000 
$30,001–70,000  12  129,000  18  187,000  13  139,000 
$70,001–100,000  65,000  14  99,000  13  91,000 
Over $100,000  80,000  12  138,000  103,000 
Source: Statistics New Zealand 

More people of prime working age reported cold, damp, or small houses

People of prime working age (25–44 years) were the most likely of all age groups to find the house they live in cold, damp, or too small. This age group is diverse – it includes people in full-time work, those forming families, and some people in rented housing. This group may face greater pressures because their outgoings are more and their expectations higher. Other research has shown that younger households (people aged between 20 and 40 years) more often aspire to improve their housing situation through home ownership and increased dwelling size (Centre for Housing Research, 2010, px).

In 2010/11:

  • One in five people of prime working age (20 percent, or 231,000 people) reported living in a house that was too cold. This compared with:
    • 15 percent (167,000 people) of middle-aged people (aged 45–64 years)
    • 13 percent (83,000 people) of young adults (aged 15–24 years)
    • 8 percent (43,000 people) of older adults (aged 65 years or more).
  • 14 percent of people of prime working age (165,000 people) reported living in a house that was damp, compared with 10 percent of young adults (63,000 people), 9 percent of middle-aged people (97,000 people), and 3 percent of older adults (18,000 people).
  • 17 percent of people of prime working age (200,000 people) said their house was too small, which was one-and-a half times more likely than the other age groups. 10 percent of middle-aged people (108,000 people) and 10 percent of young adults (61,000 people) said their house was too small, and only 3 percent of older adults (19,000 people) did so

It is not unexpected that older adults were less likely to say that their house was too small, given that many live alone or with a partner, rather than with children, and people’s needs tend to decrease as they get older.

Figure 1 shows the proportion of people at each age life stage who felt they had the particular major problem. 

Figure 1

Graph, Self-reported housing problem by age life stage.

Renters most likely to find their houses cold, damp, or small

Renters were considerably more likely than owner-occupiers to report living in a cold, damp, or small house. They were also more likely than owner-occupiers to experience lower material living standards overall, and to be of prime working age. (46 percent of renters in the survey were in the ‘prime working age’ group, followed by 27 percent in the ‘young adults’ group.)

In 2010/11:

  • One-quarter of renters (25 percent, or 275,000 people) reported living in a cold house, which was more than twice the proportion of owner-occupiers that did so (11 percent, or 250,000 people).
  • Renters were more likely than owner-occupiers to report a damp house: 19 percent (212,000 people), compared with 6 percent (131,000 people).
  • Renters were also more likely than owner-occupiers to report finding their house too small: 17 percent (182,000 people), compared with 9 percent (205,000 people).

New Zealand research (for example, BRANZ, 2012, p3) has shown that the physical condition of rented housing is worse overall than that of owner-occupied houses.

More sole-parent families reported cold, damp, or small houses

More people in sole-parent families than people in other family types reported cold, damp, or small housing. As might be expected, people in sole-parent families also experienced significantly lower material standards of living, especially those who said they had cold housing.

The findings show:

  • 21 percent of people in sole-parent families (70,000 people) and 16 percent of people in ‘couple with children’ families (235,000 people) reported living in a cold house. Only 12 percent of people in ‘couple without children’ families (113,000 people) said they lived in a cold house.
  • 16 percent of people in sole-parent families (52,000 people) and 10 percent of people in ‘couple with children’ families (152,000 people) reported a damp house. This proportion was significantly higher than people in ‘couple without children’ families with a damp house (7 percent, or 68,000 people).

Not surprisingly, people in families with children – both sole parents and couples – were much more likely to be of prime working age than those in the other family types. 41 percent of people in sole parent families, and 44 percent of people in ‘couple with children’ families were in this age group, which was the most likely to report housing problems.

As we might expect, given the greater number of occupants living in the house, families with children were twice as likely to find their house too small as people in ‘couple without children’ families.

  • 15 percent of people in sole-parent families (49,000 people) and 15 percent of people in ‘couple with children’ families (215,000 people) said they lived in a house that was too small. In contrast, only around half that proportion of people in families without children, and people not in a family, reported the same thing.

Figure 2 shows the proportion of people in each family type who reported the particular major problem. 

Figure 2

Graph, Self-reported housing problem by family type.  

Pacific peoples and Māori more likely to report cold, damp, or small houses

Pacific peoples and Māori were more likely than European or Asian people to report having the major housing problems. This was especially the case with damp houses for Māori and cold houses for Pacific peoples. Māori were approximately 13 percent of the New Zealand population at the time of the survey, yet 22 percent of those reporting damp houses were Māori. The high proportion of Māori and Pacific peoples reporting cold, damp, or small houses is likely due to lower material living standards of these ethnic groups in general, and their younger age structures compared with Europeans.

In 2010/11, nearly one-third of Pacific peoples reported the house they lived in was too cold. They were one-and-a-half times more likely than Māori, and more than twice as likely as Europeans and Asians, to report this. When it came to damp houses and houses that were too small, Māori and Pacific peoples were equally likely to report these problems. Specifically:

  • 33 percent of Pacific peoples (52,000 people), 21 percent of Māori (92,000 people), 16 percent of Asians (53,000 people), and 14 percent of Europeans (356,000 people) said their house was too cold.
  • 17 percent of Māori (74,000 people) reported living in a house that was damp, as did 16 percent of Pacific peoples (25,000 people), 10 percent of Asians (34,000 people), and 9 percent of Europeans (232,000 people).
  • 22 percent of Pacific peoples (35,000 people) and 17 percent of Māori (72,000 people) found their house too small. This was more than one-and-a-half times the proportion of Asians and Europeans: only 10 percent of Asian people (33,000 people) and 10 percent of Europeans (265,000 people) felt their house was too small. These findings reflect the larger family sizes of Māori and particularly Pacific households: 20 percent of Pacific peoples lived in households with seven or more people, compared with 7 percent of Māori, 4 percent of Asians, and 1 percent of Europeans.

Figure 3 shows the proportion of each ethnic group who said they live in cold, damp, or small housing. 

Figure 3

Graph, Self-reported housing problem by ethnic group.  

Little difference in perceptions of housing problems across regional centres

Three regional centres are compared in this report: Auckland, Wellington, and Canterbury. Because the NZGSS 2010 finished its data collection in March 2011, this report does not reflect the current state of housing in Canterbury. The survey collected information from respondents in Canterbury for several months before and after the September 2010 earthquake, but was not able to collect much information from respondents following the February 2011 earthquake.

The survey findings did not show any statistically significant differences in the levels of reported housing problems across the three main regional centres. Interestingly, the findings do not appear to reflect geographical variation in climate and weather conditions.

Forty percent of people in Wellington (153,000 people), and over one-third of people in both Auckland (37 percent, or 421,000 people) and Canterbury (35 percent, or 155,000 people) felt that they had at least one major problem with the house or flat they lived in. 

Table 4

Proportion and number of people in main regional centres reporting the three main housing problems
Region  House is damp  House is too cold  House is too small 
Percent  Number of people  Percent  Number of people  Percent  Number of people 
Auckland  11  126,000  15  173,000  12  134,000 
Wellington  11  41,000  19  71,000  13  51,000 
Canterbury  42,000  16  71,000  10  47,000 

Source: Statistics New Zealand

Perceptions of housing quality not strongly associated with life satisfaction

Perceptions of housing quality did not appear to be strongly associated with life satisfaction. Reported levels of life satisfaction remained fairly high – over three-quarters of people who said they had at least one major housing problem also said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their life overall. However, perceiving a housing problem did have a small negative impact and it did not appear to matter which major housing problem it was.

Of the 37 percent of New Zealanders who reported having at least one major housing problem:

  • 82 percent were ‘very satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ with their life overall. This was significantly fewer than the 90 percent of those who did not report a major housing problem.
  • 9 percent felt ‘dissatisfied’ or ‘very dissatisfied’ with their life overall, compared with 5 percent of those who did not report a housing problem.
  • 9 percent also said they were ‘neither satisfied nor dissatisfied’ with their life overall, compared with 6 percent of those not perceiving any major housing problems.

Previous NZGSS research has found that New Zealanders have relatively high levels of overall life satisfaction, compared with other OECD countries: 87 percent of the population reported they were ‘very satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ with their lives overall in 2010/11.  

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