Each year and every year, around 1600 New Zealanders die prematurely because we live in cold damp houses. This “excess winter death rate” is four times higher than the road toll. They die, most especially the young, unwell, disabled and elderly, of respiratory illnesses, strokes and heart attacks because far too much of our housing stock is cheap, crappily built rubbish. By contrast, really cold countries like Russia have almost zero excess winter deaths.
Our welfare state is a miserly one. Our total social housing stock is only 5%, a very low provision by OECD standards, and much of it is old and in dire need of upgrading. Worse still the building regulations around heating, insulation and efficiency are effectively a sick-making joke. No form of heating is actually required, other than a 3-pin plug on a wall somewhere. Even the latest new building codes with marginally improved insulation and double glazing measures, are a feeble catch-up on world standards, and apply to new houses only. They do nothing for the 99% of houses people actually live in.
The whole commercial building industry is totally geared to place almost ZERO value on the real costs, both direct and indirect, of owning and living the houses they build. The industry only cares about making a profit today, while the buildings they create are in use for 90 years or more.
The market creates huge disconnects. Tenants typically pay for all their energy costs, while the capital burden of any improvements falls onto the owner, meaning that the landlord has very little incentive to spend the typical $15-25k needed to bring a home up to a reasonable standard. Worse still even if that money is spent, the valuation of the home is likely to only improve a small fraction of that, say $2-5k, making it very difficult to fund the improvements from the bank. With many, many rentals running cash-flow negative, the money has to come directly out of the landlord’s own pocket if it is to happen. Given that most landlords are just ordinary working people themselves, and even with good intentions, there remains a big hurdle to leap over.
As for HNZ, I’m not sure what excuse they have.
It all stands as a terrible indictment of the so called ‘market system’ and a total failure of political will. The ‘Green New Deal’ document addresses this issue directly, and is a very pointed challenge to this government. Housing in this country is a massive market failure by almost every measure of social equity, human health, environmental sustainability, and plain old commonsense. And this winter; we can count on another 1600 New Zealanders dying quite unnecessarily, because it would appear that their lives don’t really matter that much.