Housing Differences A Major Contributor To NZ’s Inequities – Expert Reaction



Nearly a third of New Zealand households spent 30 per cent or more of their total income on housing costs in 2019, according to a new report.

The report, written by an expert panel convened by Royal Society Te Apārangi, says spending this much on housing affects wellbeing by cutting into budgets for food and other necessities like electricity and heating. The panel lists several actions that could help, such as setting standards that go further than the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act 2017 and providing culturally appropriate housing.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the report.

Livvy Mitchell, Research Analyst, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, comments:

“This paper encourages New Zealanders to challenge the status quo and think about what an equitable housing market might look like. Fairness in Aotearoa’s housing is important because housing is a fundamental human right and affects many other aspects of life.

“The current and previous New Zealand governments have made international human rights promises to its people and the United Nations — to ensure the right to adequate housing for all, in a non-discriminatory way.

“In both the Royal Society Te Apārangi’s report and Motu’s report, it is clear Māori, Pacific Peoples, people with disabilities, single parents and those living in poverty are less likely to enjoy the right to housing compared to others. Reports like these provide the evidence and sound thinking for holding the New Zealand Government accountable for their failure to keep its human rights promises.

“The recommendations set out by Te Tapeke Fair Futures panel provide a clear direction for where the Government should improve its housing policies, strategies and resources to achieve fair access to housing in Aotearoa. These recommendations must be actioned urgently since Aotearoa New Zealand is not only experiencing a housing crisis, but a human rights crisis too.”

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Conflict of interest statement: “Motu is an independent, charitable trust. The findings, conclusions, recommendations, and opinions expressed in our report remain our own and do not necessarily reflect the views of our funders or contributors.”

Dr Amohia Boulton, Director, Whakauae Research Services Ltd, comments:

“Research undertaken by our centre confirms the need for a more holistic and multidimensional understanding to the notion of ‘the house as a home,’ specifically as it relates to the needs of Māori. More work is required around the relationship between the actual, current living conditions of Māori, and the aspects of home that ideally make it a place of sustainable wellbeing. The voices of whānau provide a crucial turning point to assumptions of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to housing and placemaking; a voice to which central and local government, councils and other decision-makers must be willing to listen.

“Our research supports the view that Māori-led solutions to the housing crisis, including greater investment into Papakāinga housing, are critical if we are to address inequity of health and wellbeing outcomes for Māori. The idea of being ‘safe and well at home’ has taken on an unprecedented importance within the evolving Covid-19 pandemic context. The provision of housing which meets both generally recognised health standards and which sustains the social, cultural and spiritual wellbeing of whānau Māori is critical to reducing long-standing health inequities.”

Conflict of interest statement: Dr Boulton is a member of the Royal Society of New Zealand.


Boulton, A., Allport A., Kaiwai, H., Potaka Osborne, G., Harker, R. (2021). E hoki mai nei ki te ūkaipō – Return to Your Place of Spiritual and Physical Nourishment. Genealogy 5: 45. https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy5020045

Boulton, A., Allport A., Kaiwai, H., Potaka Osborne, G., Harker, R. (2021). “Māori perceptions of ‘home’: Māori housing needs, wellbeing and policy. Kotuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences Online, DOI: 10.1080/1177083X.2021.1920984

Dr Ashraful Alam, Lecturer in Planning, University of Otago, comments:

“This is a much timely report presenting the current state of housing in Aotearoa New Zealand. In particular, I appreciate the report’s approach to ‘fairness in housing’ and that ‘all people have to have not just an adequate house but a decent home.’ This holds a lot of promise in dealing with the complex issues concerning housing affordability in Aotearoa more qualitatively, which all too often is seen as a ‘numbers game’.

“It is often not possible to quantify affordability or homelessness. For example, my research in Sydney shows that homeowners may fail to attach the meaning of ‘home’ to their owned houses if the layout of the house fails to serve their cultural and familial needs. Similarly, in our current research in Auckland, we observe that often first-home buyers end up choosing unsuitable homes because they need to make a difficult choice between affordability and cultural suitability from the current available housing stock on the market.

“So, in my view, this report represents a hopeful beginning to inspire a new genre of housing research and design that has already started to take place globally. There is much to be gained from examining this kind of philosophical positioning around housing/home and how fairness intersects with them. For example, we can think about more ‘shared’ tenure types, not only to address affordability, but also to rethink density design in urban areas. We can borrow insights from Māori value systems to rethink housing/home beyond just material shelters and as a means to ensure fair access to residential amenity landscapes that imbue residents with a sense of homeliness. The ‘fairness’ approach will help us to rethink housing as an infrastructure that cares for its occupants, rather than as just a means of asset accumulation.”

No conflict of interest.

Dr Shiloh Groot, School of Psychology, University of Auckland, comments:

Housing inequity traps people in poverty

“Issues around housing, work, income, debt, food, education and wellbeing are closely interrelated, but often treated as isolated topics for policy intervention. The relational impacts of these issues are particularly acute in the everyday lives of the growing precariat in Aotearoa who occupy low-pay and often insecure jobs, and who experience unacceptably poor health outcomes when compared to more affluent population groups. There is a real mismatch between government intent and actual impacts for families.

“I’m currently involved in a Health Research Council funded project which considers what impacts recent government policy efforts to help (such as the rising of minimum wages, healthy homes guarantee act, and the families package act) are having for low-income whānau. The key question is: how do families become trapped by poverty and how do we help them get out of these traps?

What we are seeing

“The recent rise in accommodation supplements is still not enough to meet the rising cost of private rentals, this creates significant stress and ill health for families. Increases to the accommodation supplement is taken by landlords and tenants have no power to challenge what they pay, as they fear they will be evicted and replaced due to the high need of housing.

“Healthy Homes Standards offer some change in relation to insulation, yet largely remains up to the tenant to complain about issues with the home and are inconsistently applied. For example, tenants are having to purchase or take out a loan or find advocacy groups like Curtain Bank for items such as curtains. Research shows that well fitted curtains are effective at reducing heat loss. This not only helps keep a home warm and healthy, but also greatly helps with reducing energy bills.

“The recent increases in minimum wage levels have seen little to no change for families, even when they can earn more, temporary additional supports or accommodation allowances are reduced. So, while one area of income goes up another area of supplements goes down.

“Families feel trapped and this ultimately impacts their wellbeing. Likewise, living and housing costs cancel out wage rises. It is of limited utility increasing minimum wages if housing rents are rising even faster, leading to burnout, financial ill-being and poor work-life balance.

“There are huge inefficiencies for clients in navigating our welfare and education systems. There is a lack of awareness in relation to Accommodation Supplement, Childcare Assistance and hardship grants like that of food grants and temporary additional supports. Families struggle to find out what their entitlements are in reference to these supports, they do not always have access to the internet, or struggle to navigate the online websites, these issues are exacerbated in L3 and L4 lockdown, in which wait times were significant when trying to phone in for additional supports if they did not have access to the internet.

“So, most concerning, is how good policies conflict with each other or are simply just tweaking around the edges and only disrupt or mitigate the impacts of each other (e.g., raising wages, but then poverty reduction cancelled by rent rises; food in schools, but people are scared to access it because welfare agencies may start questioning them about being able to care for children.)

“Our social safety net no longer catches people like it should and is way too complex to keep tweaking.

“Clearly the present approach to poverty reduction is not working. We need to think of poverty as relational and move from a punitive to a coaching or supportive orientation.”

No conflict of interest.

Professor John Tookey, Professor of Construction Management, AUT University, comments:

“The equity outcomes demanded by society will require substantially increased housing provision. This has to be delivered ahead of market demand if we are to ‘shift the dial’ on our current affordability / accessibility indicators. The impact of COVID lockdowns and skills shortages add to the pre-existing productivity constraints, making this a huge challenge going forward. This must be achieved against a background of an existing underlying growth rate of 15-18 per cent across New Zealand over the course of the last decade.

“In order to deal with the growing pains associated with expansion, control costs and ensure supply chain integrity, planners will have to consider a range of different options. Large scale ordering, standardising designs, prefabrication, strategic stock piling of critical resource, training, critical capacity investments and buying in additional technologies will all have to be considered.

“From a policy perspective this will require substantial investment by government, and the need to pick some ‘winners’ in the private sector to partner with. Without doubt such expansive goals will require expansion in the remit of Kāinga Ora – possibly even radical measures such as the establishment of some form of latter day Ministry of Works to drive supply chain capability.”

No conflict of interest.