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Tariana Turia Speech: The value of good housing

Tariana Turia Speech: The value of good housing

Speech to launch ‘He Kainga Oranga’ housing insulation and health study,

Pataka, Norrie Street, Porirua

E nga mana whenua, Ngati Toa, koutou ko nga iwi e huihui nei, tena koutou katoa.

To those of you who organised and carried out this study, and to the families who took part, thank you for the invitation to join you today. I bring apologies from my colleague Winnie Laban who cannot be here with us.

We are launching the preliminary findings of research to see if insulating houses leads to significant savings in home heating costs, and improvements in the health of the families.

I think there are a number of things we can celebrate at this launch.

The first is that it seems that insulating houses does make them warmer and drier, while using less power; and also that the people living in the houses stay healthier, judging by the numbers of days off work or school. So that is a positive outcome that this study shows.

The second thing is that I understand members of the community were employed to identify participating households, conduct interviews, install the insulation, and do follow-up surveys – so the research project provided additional benefits to the community in terms of work and income, new skills and knowledge, and stronger community networks.

Thirdly, the study was carried out by a number of organisations working together. The study nation-wide has been co-ordinated by the Wellington School of Medicine and other national organisations, in partnership with community agencies in seven communities.

He Kainga Oranga, the Housing and Health Research Programme, at the Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, has been running since January 2002, and has already made a significant impact on our understanding of the association between poor housing and ill health.

In Porirua, Housing Action Porirua is the coalition of community groups and providers, together with regional and local authorities, who managed this project. Housing Action Porirua has formal links with the City Council, Health Links Porirua, Housing New Zealand, Regional Public Health and other agencies.

Without this local organisation, a study of this kind could not have happened.

Many public health issues can only be addressed by co-operative effort, and any project that achieves that, takes us a step towards better community health and well-being. All these are positive things.

I have a number of interests in this project, in addition to my personal interest. I have portfolios in Community and Voluntary Sector, Health, Housing, Social Development and Employment, and Maori Affairs.

And I have a question. How do we evaluate a project like this?

Each ministry and department will be interested in different outcomes. Their support, and in particular their willingness to fund future projects, is likely to depend on what benefits they see for their own agency. What about the outcomes for the community and the families – which I think are most important.

How do we bring all the various indicators and measures together into an integrated assessment of an inter-disciplinary project such as this?

Will these research results help us decide whether or not it is worth insulating houses? We can certainly measure the cost of installing the insulation, and the savings in home heating costs, and maybe even the savings in terms of fewer visits to the doctor.

But what is the value of families feeling warm and cosy at home? Can we measure improvements in family harmony, or our children doing more homework, or sleeping better at night, so they succeed at school next day?

Some of the benefits to the community depend on how things are done, as well as whether or not we do them. It makes a big difference whether local people or outside contractors do the work. A little extra cost might produce a much greater benefit.

In all my portfolios, I am committed to taking a whanau development or community development approach to questions like these.

This involves government agencies working with communities in new ways. And equally importantly, it involves communities working with government agencies in new ways.

Government agencies must work together with each other, and with communities, to support the community, not to direct them. Public servants are having to learn and practice new skills

- in inter-agency co-operation,
- recognising people as members of communities and whanau rather than as individual clients,
- listening and responding rather than initiating and controlling.
Government agencies can only work in this way if communities are willing and able to take the lead. It requires grass-roots people to take the initiative.

Community development is something that only communities can do themselves. It’s up to you to identify your priorities and work out plans for achieving your goals – and then stick to them.

Community or whanau development is a huge challenge. I congratulate Housing Action Porirua on what you have achieved already, and I hope you are able to carry on and support the people of Porirua to achieve their own goals for housing, health and community development.

As I said, this is also a challenge to agencies to work with communities in constructive and supportive ways. This project shows it can be done – now it must become a matter of course. I am very keen to see far more work being done in Cannons Creek and Waitangirua.

Finally, I’d like to come back to my question: How do we know if insulating houses is worth it? How do we evaluate an inter-agency community development project?

The coalition government of which I am a member is extremely interested in the appropriate evaluation of programmes. We need to know accurately whether programmes which we are funding are achieving the desired outcomes.

While we have said that initiatives are successful if they are ‘by Maori for Maori’, and that results are best where indigenous people are able to determine their own way forward, and set their priorities, it follows that evaluations should be carried out by the same communities as opposed to the “expert outsider”.

I want to suggest that, if governments and communities wish to evaluate programmes or carry out research, it must be done in a way which reflects the values of the people who are the recipients of the programmes.

I believe there is a lot of work to be done, by communities, whanau and hapu working together with agencies, to develop sound evaluation criteria, based on agreement around the goals that communities have set for themselves.

Kia ora tatou katoa.

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