Damp, cold homes are not safe – COVID-19 highlights housing inequities.

“The COVID-19 lockdown has highlighted that being at home is not as safe for some as it is for others” says Chair of Wellingon Regional Healthy Housing Group Dr. Roger Blakeley.  “Research shows damp, cold and overcrowded homes are a significant risk factor for respiratory illnesses and other health issues.“ 

“People with lower incomes are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, and evidence from the outbreaks in the USA and Europe has already shown that death is far more likely for COVID-19 in those with existing respiratory conditions, many of which are strongly related to cold damp housing in New Zealand” explains Deputy Director of He Kainga Oranga/ Housing and Health Research Programme at University of Otago, Nevil Pierse.  “The research also shows that insulating houses is very effective in reducing hospitalisations from these respiratory conditions” he adds.

“We have this opportunity to change the trajectory for many vulnerable families if we invest in retrofitting current housing stock.  The government response to COVID-19 must prioritise warm, dry, safe housing for all” Dr. Blakely urges.

Members of the Wellington Regional Healthy Housing Group (WRHHG) are ready to ramp up work retrofitting housing if government investment in COVID-19 recovery is made available for this.  “There is potential for significant employment creation and economic stimulus alongside the opportunity to address a long-standing issue that has high social and financial costs to New Zealand” says Dr. Blakeley.

“Substandard housing and overcrowding disproportionatly affect Maori and Pacific peoples, and children and older people are particularly at risk from negative health impacts.  Over the 4 years to June 2018, there were 5,925 housing sensitive hospitalisations of children 0-14 years, with Maori and Pacific admissions averaging double the rate of all other ethnicities combined” he notes.

WRHHG is made up of central government departments, local councils, district health boards and Regional Public Health, as well as research, social outreach, health and community organisations, inspired by the common vision that ‘Everyone living in the Wellington region lives in warm, dry and safe housing by 2025’.

WRHHG strongly supports proposals by member organisations Sustainability Trust for 10,000 warmer houses in the Wellington Region and Wellington City Council City Housing upgrade programme to the Infrastructure Industry Reference Group in response to the Government call for ‘shovel ready’ projects.