- Date published:
12:34 pm, August 3rd, 2019 - 32 comments
Categories: housing, housing insulation, poverty, Social issues, tenants' rights, uncategorized - Tags: christchurch, Christchurch City Council
In 2016 the National government mandated that all rental properties had to have ceiling and floor insulation (thank-you Greens!), unless it was impractical do so. The deadline was July 1st 2019.
Stuff are reporting that Christchurch City Council have deferred insulating 370 social housing units with flat ceilings, using the ‘impractical’ escape clause. CCC claim it can’t easily be done. Tenant Lynda McKenzie went ahead and got the work done herself. Another tenant got a quote from a builder and insulation contractor, who said it could be done now.
I don’t know if this has been legally tested yet, but the exemption clause in the legislation is vague,
Access is impracticable or unsafe
Some areas of some homes may be impracticable or unsafe to access due to their design, limited access, potential for substantial damage, or health and safety reasons. There is an exemption for parts of homes where a professional installer is unable to access and/or insulate, until this becomes possible (for example when a property is re-roofed).
Quite clearly there are no safety or access issues, but it would require the council to install a new ceiling. So will CCC get a free pass on this?
The council has a plan to meet the Healthy Homes legislation over the next four years and seem to be saying that some of the units will get ceiling insulation as part of that. But it looks like a purely financial issue and that CCC are using the vagueness of the legislation to circumvent their responsibilities. Upshot is the cost, which has to be paid from rentals (CCC can’t use rates*).
What I’d like to point to here are two things have happened within the institution of the council.
One is that it was deemed too expensive to provide the basic necessities of wellbeing. We’re not talking anything flash, just the right to live in a warm and dry house and maintain one’s health. One of the tradies in the Stuff video quotes a government report that for every dollar spent on insulation there was a seven dollar pay back in health benefits. Obviously this is not a new situation, but in 2016 notice was given that it was no longer acceptable to let tenants live cold and damp houses, so where is the changed financial plan for social housing in Christchurch?
The other is that someone at the council came up with the idea that covering the windows with bubble wrap in the middle of winter was a good idea. You can choose between warmish/dryish or being able to let sun and light in and see out the windows. But it’s not really a choice because it’s a shitty system of adaptation reserved for the most poor in NZ. As McKenzie points out, depression and other mental health issues are high. Poverty is a major contributor to poor mental health and this is Christchurch were many people are still recovering from the the quakes, and now there is stress and for some trauma from the Mosque shootings.
There’s another recovery, a theme running through NZ politics now. How do we recover from nine years of the neoliberal social engineering of the public services by Key’s National government. We are seeing this across a range of central government services, where it appears likely that some of the staff within those organisations are working from a mindset that doesn’t support Labour’s wellbeing vision, or is actively working against it. This tenancy situation in Christchurch is not a central government issue, so we can neatly sidestep the growing preference for blaming Labour for things that are hard to fix. Instead we can look at why an institution would be making these kinds of decisions. This is about values and priorities and how we can change our institutions so that they operate primarily from a place of care.
Which isn’t to say that the people involved are necessarily bad. I frequently come across good people who are struggling to work in systems that are now solidly designed for right wing neoliberalism. But there is an issue of the philosophy of the power holders in those institutions, and how communities might effect change in mindsets so that the baselines become the wellbeing of people and the environments we live in.
*updated: TS commenter Craig H notes there is no legal reason that the council cannot pay for insulation, but it’s convention not to.