The United Nations says New Zealand has to step up its game when it comes to affordable housing - but that's just the top of a long list of ongoing problems we're facing.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is calling for the Government to "redouble its efforts to regulate the private housing market, including by controlling rent increases" and beefing up minimum heating and insulation standards in rental properties.
The demands are made in its latest report, and has the backing of New Zealand's Human Rights Commission.
"Good housing is not something that some people are entitled to and others are not. It is a human right," said chief commissioner David Rutherford.
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The UN wants New Zealand to report back within 18 months on whatever progress it has made.
Mr Rutherford says there needs to be a cross-party consensus on a housing strategy, rather than each Government doing its own thing, in response to what the previous one did.
"New Zealanders, and particularly our most vulnerable, are increasingly experiencing the flow-on effects of successive Governments over many decades neglecting to treat housing as a human right.
"The impact of this neglect on educational achievement, good health and other foundations of wellbeing is well documented."
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A Government-commissioned report in 2018 found for every homeless person who successfully applied for temporary emergency housing, "eight or nine were turned away", the Human Rights Commission said in its submission to the UN committee.
"To date, measures by Government to address severe housing deprivation have largely been ad hoc or reactive. Between March and June 2017 the Government increased its funding of emergency housing to meet high demand. This included funding temporary accommodation in motel units due to a lack of available emergency housing."
The UN says the Government needs to:
- "step up its efforts" to ensure KiwiBuild is a success
- pay more attention to the housing needs of low-income, MÄori and Pasifika families, people with disabilities and the elderly
- collect better data around homelessness
- ensure that evictions comply with interNational Standards, and that alternative housing is available for evictees
- "take effective measures" to make rental homes safe and healthy to live in, as well as affordable
- speed up the Christchurch quake claims process.
The Human Rights Commission also wants the Residential Tenancies Act changed to give tenants more security, including "particular responsibilities on landlords towards tenants with children, or vulnerable adults".
"Families with children, particularly one-parent and Māori and Pacific families, experience much higher levels of discrimination in the private rental market, including disparately high rental rates, a factor that impacts upon the choice of housing available.
"The 2018... report said the proportion of Māori and Pasifika families renting privately approximately doubled from 1991 to 2013, driven in part by policies designed to move people out of social housing."
People in social housing tend to have more stable tenancies than those renting privately, the report notes, partly because the law currently allows "termination of tenancy without reason" and no "standalone provision that affirms any minimum right to security of tenure for tenants".
The UN's full list of concerns about NZ's economic, cultural and social rights
Other concerns the UN has for New Zealand include:
- that "economic, social and cultural rights do not enjoy an equal status with civil and political rights"
- "the extent of child abuse in the family and in state care, in particular experienced by children with disabilities and Māori children"
- human, economic, social and cultural rights aren't considered when the Government's Budget is being prepared
- women are still underrepresented in leadership roles
- that so many people - around 221,000 are underemployed
- that youth, Māori, Pasifika, women and the disabled are more likely to be not in employment, education or training than others
- that there are exemptions to the minimum wage for people with disabilities
- working conditions for migrants are often below standard, including "excessive" hours, slack adherence to employment law and underpayment
- the persistent gender pay gap
- unfair dismissals in the 90-day trial period
- "excessively focusing on getting beneficiaries into paid work" with the threat of sanctions
- "disproportionate numbers of Māori and Pasifika children as well as children with disabilities living in households [below the] poverty line"
- "gaps in the enjoyment of the right to health, with Māori and Pasifika experiencing worst health outcome"
- that mental health services are "insufficiently responsive"
- the "prevalence of bullying and harassment at schools"
- kids dropping out of school due to financial pressures.