New Zealand homes cold, mouldy, poor housing worsening mental health issues - report

Homeownership has plummeted to its lowest rate since 1951, with a new report finding rental houses are more likely to be damp and mouldy, leading to serious physical and mental health effects.

On Tuesday, Stats NZ released its new Housing in Aotearoa report which paints a grim picture of living conditions in New Zealand. 

The report found "considerable disparities" in homeownership with young people far less likely to own their own home and Māori and Pacific peoples less likely than other groups to own a home.

By 2018, just over 1.4 million people lived in houses they didn't own, including 120,000 children under five years old. Also, almost one-third of renters aged 65 and over lived in social housing.

Homeownership has plummeted to its lowest rate since 1951, and the quality of rental properties leaves a lot to be desired.

StatsNZ says homeownership rates have fallen for all age groups since the early 1990s, but particularly those in their 20s and 30s.

For example, in 1991, 61 percent of those agred between 25 and 29 lived in an owner-occupied home. But this had dropped to 44 percent by 2018. For those in their 30s, the rate dropped from 79 percent to 59 percent. 

"Homeownership rates for younger people have seen significant falls since the 1990s; however, ownership rates for those aged 60 years and over have only fallen slightly," said lead author Dr Rosemary Goodyear said.

"This may be because the baby boomer generation was more likely to get a foot on the property ladder earlier than young people today."

Rental homes are more likely to be smaller, older, and in more need of major repairs, according to the report. They were commonly mouldy, damp, and less likely to have heating with one in five homes "always or usually" too cold in winter. For Pacific people, this rose to two in five.

Poor housing has serious health effects on the people unfortunate enough to live in them - with one in six houses reporting mould patches larger than an A4 sheet of paper it's hardly surprising their life satisfaction was 'poor'.

Just over half of those who lived in these cold, mouldy homes had worse mental health issues than those who lived in warm dry homes. On top of this, they were more frequently sick with colds and cases of flu, and had higher rates of asthma. 

And people are paying through the nose for the privilege of living in these homes. Renting households usually spent more of their incomes on their living situation than people who owned their own homes.

The amount of renters paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing has skyrocketed since 1988. In the 80s, it was less than 20 percent - by 2019 that had shot through the roof to more than 40 percent.

Along with renters paying more to live in homes, those who did rent tended to be less satisfied with their housing. People living in crowded homes, Māori, Pacific peoples, the unemployed, and sole parents were also more likely to be unhappy with their living situation.

About one in nine New Zealanders lived in a crowded home as of 2018, with the highest rates of crowding among Pacific peoples.

Household crowding was highest in the Auckland and Gisborne regions. Within Auckland, one in four households in Mangere-Otahuhu and Otara-Papatoetoe were crowded.

The housing supply has not kept up with New Zealand's population growth, Stats NZ says. The number of private dwellings increased by an average of 1.3 percent per year between the 2013 and 2018 censuses, but the population grew by almost 500,000 people - outstripping the number of homes.

There are now over 55,000 multi-family homes as of 2018, which "reflects a changing and diversifying population" but also shows the pressures Kiwis face when it comes to housing.

New Zealand's aging population has also contributed to more couple-only or one-person households.

Stats NZ expects the number of households will continue to increase, but the number of people in each household will continue to fall.