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Shortage Of Accessible Homes A Human Rights Deficit

Human rights data on housing released today by Te Kāhui Tika Tangata, the Human Rights Commission, estimates more than 100,000 people face severe housing deprivation, while 17 percent of people with a physical impairment have unmet housing modification needs.

“Homelessness should be reducing, and people’s homes should meet accessibility requirements to fulfil the government’s obligation for the right to a decent home for all.

“Numbers of public housing are at an all-time high but per capita supply is still below the previous peak reached in the 1990's,” says Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt.

“Decent housing improves health, education, and work. It provides a sense of safety and belonging. Without a decent home, it is difficult to contribute to society. Because housing is so vital to mana and wellbeing, the International Bill of Human Rights affirms it is a human right,” says Mr Hunt.

The Commission has focused on three human rights components - prevalence of homelessness, public housing stock compared to the population, and unmet need for housing modifications- to show whether progress is being made on the right to a decent home, as part of its Measuring Progress series.

New public housing builds should all be accessible homes 

In 2013, one in six people with a physical impairment (17 percent,) said they had an unmet need for some kind of modification to their home.

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With Aotearoa New Zealand’s population aged 65 and over expected to increase from 793,000 (16 percent of the population) in 2020 to almost 2 million people in 2073 (28 percent of the population), universal design and accessible housing are important issues to tackle.

The Commission’s housing inquiry manager Vee Blackwood says a change in mindset is needed to enable the country to prepare for an aging population.

“Universal design supports people to age in place, instead of having to move when they can no longer navigate the stairs or narrow hallways. Experts identified the need for accessibility standards to be included in the building code back in 2007, but little has happened since then. If this change had been implemented by 2010, around 270,000 accessible homes would have been built in the last 13 years,” says Blackwood.

A review by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities earlier this month, recommended that the government should “commit to a target of 100% accessibility for new build public housing and introduce mandatory accessibility requirements for new housing constructed by the private sector”.

Instead Kāinga Ora is aiming for 15% of their new builds to meet universal design standards, which the government aims to raise to 25%.

Sustained investment in public housing needed

The 100,000 people facing severe housing deprivation includes those without shelter, people in temporary accommodation, people who are sharing accommodation (temporary residents in a severely crowded private dwelling) and people living in uninhabitable housing.

“This figure doesn’t take into account the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and the sharp increase in the cost of living, so the current number is likely even higher,” says Blackwood.

Government policies in the early 1990s and 2010s included reducing the numbers of state houses. There are now only 149 public houses per 10,000 people of the population compared to the peak of 203 state houses per 10,000 people in 1990. This doesn’t include local government housing, which has also decreased.

“This data indicates that the government selloffs of public housing in the 1990s and 2010s are correlated to the ballooning numbers of people living on the street or in emergency or transitional accommodation,” says Blackwood.

We must learn from the causes of this housing crisis and create a housing system that is focused on realising our human right to a decent home, grounded on Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

An accountability mechanism for housing

“The government needs to establish an independent accountability mechanism to keep governments on track for the human right to a decent home,” says Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt.

“We commend the work of the Government in delivering more than 10,000 additional public homes.” We also recognise the leadership of iwi and hapū providers, and the hard work of many organisations in central and local government and in social services.

“However, we still have this huge gap in realisation of the right to a decent home. We should take a leaf out of Canada’s book, whose housing policies are explicitly shaped by human rights.

“Placing the explicit right to a decent home, and Te Tiriti o Waitangi, at the centre of the housing sector will help the government deliver its housing promises and point the way towards a constructive accountability mechanism for the fundamental right to a decent home,” says Mr Hunt.


· As part of its Housing Inquiry, the Human Rights Commission has developed the tool Measuring Progress, which uses indicators to measure progress on seven principles that relate to the right to a decent home, grounded on Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The Accessibility indicators are the third such set of indicators released by the Commission, following indicators on affordability and habitability of housing. These will be followed by releases of indicators on security of tenure and cultural adequacy.

· Housing register data shows that there is significant demand for public housing, the number of applicants has grown from 5,300 in June 2016 to 27,000 in June 2022.

· Overall, at least 102,100 people were considered severely housing deprived at the time of the 2018 census. Severe housing deprivation may have worsened since then, in line with worsening affordability, inflation and limited supply of housing.

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