Opinion: Upgrade homes to create new jobs

  • Opinion
  • 09/05/2020
Condensation in a poorly-insulated home.
Condensation in a poorly-insulated home. Photo credit: Getty

By Green Party MPs Gareth Hughes and Marama Davidson

OPINION: You might be a bit tired of your home after four weeks in lockdown. We are! But in between video-conference parliamentary select committees and helping keep the kids in our bubbles from tearing down the walls, we've been thinking about homes and housing.

As Aotearoa cautiously moves out of lockdown and communities start to repair the social and economic hurt, there is a new focus on what kind of country we want to rebuild.

There are people who want to rebuild what we had before. But building more motorways and convention centres won't bring communities together after isolation, and won't support the local small and medium businesses who are doing it tough.

Now is a moment to reset and make changes to ensure we don't slip back into business as usual. The economic reset, recovery, stimulus - whatever you want to call it - must be focused on economic activity that creates jobs quickly and fixes long-term problems like housing and climate change too. Some big infrastructure projects might play a part, but we should also seek out local businesses and community organisations who can improve economic and social outcomes directly in households and communities.

Home insulation is an example. Throughout our country there are companies and non-profit organisations that have been built off the back of successful government programmes to warm up our homes. They train and employ people locally. Because they already exist, they can scale up quickly to train hundreds more people, on the job. Most of the actual insulation product is made right here in Aotearoa, so making more of it will create more local jobs.

Everyone deserves a warm, dry home but as we head into winter this year, around 600,000 households are still damp and cold because they don't have good enough insulation, heating, and ventilation. Government can play a role providing subsidies and grants to households - creating sustainable jobs now and warmer, dryer homes for the future. As a start, existing insulation subsidies should be increased and insulation installers should be supported to take on apprentices and trainees.

Let's set a national target to insulate, heat, and ventilate every single home in Aotearoa within 10 years. That's about 60,000 homes a year. It's ambitious, and now is the time for ambition. If the Government commits to back that target up with financial support, local businesses who do the work will respond quickly to the decade-long work plan by training people and creating new jobs to achieve that target.

Marama Davidson.
Marama Davidson. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

The payback will be big and quick. Every dollar invested in insulation saves people at least four dollars on energy bills and fewer visits to the doctor - and it's more like six dollars saved if a child or older person lives in the house.

Gareth Hughes.
Gareth Hughes. Photo credit: The AM Show

And let's not stop there. The Government's energy efficiency organisation, EECA, has begun providing efficient heating, trialling LED lighting upgrades, and other energy saving technologies to complement insulation. This can save households hundreds of dollars a year and reduce peak-time electricity use too, which means reducing the demand to turn up the big old gas and coal power plants in the evenings. Let's expand that support to include solar hot water heating, solar and battery set-ups for homes, and other clean energy upgrades.

The Government could provide low-cost loans and grants to households for solar, batteries, and other clean energy technology, like electric vehicle-charging points; money which would be spent immediately through local solar businesses and electricians. We could quickly create career opportunities throughout Aotearoa, transforming old, cold houses from burdens on the electricity network into contributors towards achieving 100 percent renewable electricity nationwide. 

Additionally, like some lines companies are already doing, the Government could give out free LED lightbulbs to all households, to collectively save families over $100m a year from wasteful inefficient lighting.

We should take a similar approach to building more homes: partnering with organisations already doing the work to help them scale up. Around Aotearoa, iwi and community housing organisations know how to build affordable, energy efficient homes that strengthen communities and are designed right for the families who need them. They are already doing it. More Government partnerships and support could see iwi housing and community housing providers create thousands of jobs building new homes.

We know what we need to do to for a clean energy, climate-friendly, jobs-rich economic reset that creates more affordable, warm, dry housing. The technology, the skills, and the local businesses to achieve this already exist. It's time for the Government to empower them so we don't just recover the economy we had before, we reset it to be better.

Marama Davidson is the Green Party's Co-leader and housing spokesperson, and Gareth Hughes is the Green Party's energy and building and construction spokesperson.