Southern Hemisphere launch of WHO International Housing and Health Guidelines


Kia tau te rangimārie o te Rangi e tū nei

o Papatūānuku e takoto nei

o te Taiao e awhi nei

ki runga i a tātou.

Tīhei mauri ora!

Firstly, I'd like to acknowledge:

  • Henare Walmsley. Kia ora and thank you for your mihi whakatau. For those who don't know him, Henare's expertise is in architecture and building science, particularly in Māori architecture. So it's fitting he's here at this event.
  • Dr Natalie Robbel. Tēnā koe. Dr Robbel is the World Health Organisation’s coordinator for Air Pollution & Urban Health. One of her main areas of work has been development of WHO’s Housing & Health Guidelines & WHO’s efforts to address slum upgrading through housing & social policies, & other interventions.
  • Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman Chair of WHO Housing & Health Guidelines Development Group; Director of He Kainga Oranga/Housing & Health Research Programme; Director of the New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities; lead researcher for the Resilient Urban Futures programme


We’re here today because we all know good, safe housing helps ensure people have the best chance at good health.

It’s a fundamental right that a person should have the security of adequate shelter.

It serves both the good of people individually, as well as their families, and their wider communities when their housing is of a fit and healthy standard.

I couldn’t put it better than the World Health Organisation in its Housing and Health Guidelines we’re here to support today. To quote:

“Improved Housing conditions can save lives, prevent disease, increase quality of life, reduce poverty, help mitigate climate change”…

To go further:

“Poor housing conditions are one of the mechanisms through which social and environmental inequalities translate into health inequality, which further affects quality of life and well-being.”

In a country where respiratory disease is our third most common cause of death,…

where the costs of respiratory illness are estimated to be more than $6 billion every year,…

and where one in six people lives with a respiratory condition – New Zealand has plenty of reasons to back better quality housing; especially our rental housing.

Add in the impacts and risks facing tens of thousands of properties in this country through climate change and rising sea levels, and New Zealand faces not just housing quality issues, but issues about where we locate our housing as well.

They are complex challenges but ignoring them will only add to the challenges and limit people’s options.

Just as the World Health Organisation says – allowing less than adequate standards in housing limits people’s options, their well-being and quality of life, and creates inequalities too many New Zealanders are facing today.

The World Health Organisation’s International Housing and Health Guidelines provide important and useful advice for us to bear in mind when formulating better policy for our people.

New standards announced yesterday by Housing Minister Phil Twyford to ensure rental housing in New Zealand is warm, dry, and healthy very much fits with the WHO Guidelines.

I was really delighted with yesterday’s announcement, because the Green Party campaigned for many years for minimum standards for rental housing and it is a key part of our Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Government.

These are not onerous standards.  They are standards most landlords would make sure they enjoy in their own homes.

So why shouldn’t rental properties provide similar basic health standards?

And many responsible landlords do make sure that’s the case.

For those not yet getting with the programme, all that will be required under the Government’s new Healthy Homes Standards are levels of heating, insulation, ventilation, drainage and moisture protection that most owners would make sure they have in their own homes.

It’s also worth noting that the new rental property standards tie in with other Government initiatives like the $142.5 million being provided for grants over the next four years to cover costs of ceiling and underfloor insulation for thousands of low income homeowners.

That $142 million was matched – at the start of this year – with nearly $5 million more from community organisations, councils, charitable trusts, and district health boards to help with the programme.

It’s insulated over 3,200 homes already, providing thousands of New Zealand families with warmer, healthier homes that cost less to heat.

It’s all part of a bigger programme the Government is working on across a number of fronts to address issues with housing in New Zealand that have been ignored for too long.

And it’s an important part of our climate change programme too.

As I pointed to earlier, work to improve housing standards ties in with how we need to think differently about housing in New Zealand for the challenges of climate change.

In just the past couple of weeks we’ve had new research, led by New Zealanders, which predicts that the warming effects of climate change, which are influencing polar ice sheet melting in both the Arctic and Antarctic will lead to more wildly variable and unpredictable weather.

Other studies are also clearly stating that we can expect more frequent and more intense weather systems – be it heavier rainfall, more severe and frequent droughts, flooding, or fires like residents in the Nelson region have been experiencing most recently.

All of that feeds into our need to think about how we ensure our housing can – not only withstand those sorts of risks – but also be a part of the solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In other words, put simply, healthier standards of housing not only provide better well-being for the people who live in those homes, such standards also provide us with much more energy efficient homes which are better environmentally.

Better standards of housing reduce heat loss, moisture damage, and energy usage which all helps reduce emissions.

To broaden the benefits just a little further, when we talk about the indisputable health benefits for people from living in warm, dry resilient homes – we are also talking about reducing the burden on our already stretched public health services.

People living in the most deprived households are admitted to hospital for respiratory illness three times more often than those from better resourced households.

From a Climate Change Minister’s selfish perspective, a reduction in that sort of demand on hospitals – through better housing – could go some way to helping lower the significant carbon emissions hospitals produce.

Given they use about twice as much total energy per square metre as traditional office spaces, any savings we can make in hospital energy usage has got to be an added bonus.

I hasten to add that a number of hospitals in New Zealand are already putting in place decisions around their heating and other energy needs to reduce their carbon emissions.

So, to those who say we can’t afford the costs associated with bringing housing up to an acceptable warm, dry, healthy standard – I say we can’t afford not to.

We need those standards for the well-being of our fellow New Zealanders.

And we need them to help meet our commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, in order to limit the worst risks and impacts of climate change.

I thank Philippa, Dr Robbel, and their colleagues for the work they’ve done in developing the World Health Organisation’s International Housing and Health Guidelines, which we are here to acknowledge with their launch in our Southern Hemisphere part of the world.

These Guidelines are a valuable tool in helping those of us at the policy, decision-making end of the process.

They not only show us what needs to happen to provide better futures for our citizens and their families, but they help us decide how it should happen and – perhaps most importantly - why it needs to happen.

Nō reira, nga mihi nui. Tēnā koutou katoa.