Christchurch housing 'human rights issue'

TIM FULTON
Last updated 05:00 30/07/2014
Nick Smith
DEAN KOZANIC/Fairfax NZ
HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUE: Housing Minister Nick Smith said the Government was not underestimating Christchurch’s housing situation.

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The Human Rights Commission has called on the Government to sort out Christchurch’s ‘‘inadequate’’ housing situation, which it says is falling below international standards. 

The commission says Cantabrians’ rights to habitable and affordable housing are being breached post-quake.

Chief human rights commissioner David Rutherford said the commission had asked the Government to up its accommodation supplement in Christchurch to help people pay for skyrocketing rents.

The Press reported yesterday that Christchurch rent prices were nearing those in Auckland, yet the average Auckland household earned about $220 a week more. 

The average rent in greater Christchurch reached $431 a week at the end of April, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Housing and Construction Quarterly report said. 

Rutherford said government benefits needed to make living in Christchurch just as affordable as in Auckland and Wellington. 

The Christchurch accommodation supplement was about the same as in Lower Hutt, where rents had not risen, he said.

Housing rights extended to the security of tenure, access to services and infrastructure, affordability and habitability. In Canterbury, these were lacking. 

Rutherford said the earthquakes had hit fixed-income earners hard, but the commission was, for the first time, having contact with relatively well-off property owners who had been sheltering strung-out, younger family members.

People’s mental health was under increasing strain from being in emergency mode for so long and their property woes did not help. 

The commission’s legal counsel told a Supreme Court hearing on earthquake property matters yesterday that the plight of red-zoners highlighted the strains placed on people.

Lawyer Victoria Casey told the hearing that the right to adequate housing was normally taken for granted in New Zealand. 

In Canterbury, a ‘‘reality check’’ was needed. 

In the red zone, there had been ‘‘actual serious deterioration of housing conditions’’, she said.

Housing Minister Nick Smith said the Government was not underestimating Christchurch’s housing situation.

A March 2014 Cabinet paper from his office showed Christchurch’s tightening rental market has ‘‘had a disproportionate impact on low-to-moderate income households, who are least able to compete on price.’’

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The Christchurch Housing Accord update, obtained by Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford, said the proportion of new tenancies rented for less than $300 a week had decreased from 53 per cent pre-quake, to 21 per cent in February. 

Rebuild work was ‘‘targeted at higher price brackets", with a strong growth in house and land packages prices over $480,000, the Cabinet paper said. Most of these new homes were "disproportionately" on the urban fringes of the city to the north and west, it said.

Smith said there there no magic solution to Christchurch's housing challenge, but the pace of the residential rebuild had been growing each month, he said.

Housing New Zealand had a $1.2 billion repair programme under way for 5000 houses and was building 700 new ones by the end of 2015, he said.

The wider work programme extended to the Christchurch Housing Accord, temporary accommodation villages, the Canterbury Earthquake Temporary Accommodation Service and private sector partnerships for worker accommodation.

The latest building consent figures showed more consents were issued in May 2014 than any other month on record.

The 360 consents issued in that month were more than three times the pre-earthquake monthly average of 110.

THE SPECIFICS

The Human Rights Commission says the notion of housing ‘‘adequacy’’ differs worldwide but it should not be interpreted narrowly as merely having a roof over one’s head.

‘‘Adequate housing implies the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity. Certain elements need to be taken into account at all times’’, including:

Security of tenure; for example, legal protection from eviction

Availability of services; for example, sustainable access to water, sanitation and emergency services

Affordability; for example, housing costs as a ratio of income

Habitability; for example, the soundness of physical structure, dampness, and crowding

Accessibility; for example, by all ethnic, racial, national minority or other social groups

Location; for example, in relation to employment and schools

Cultural adequacy; for example, taking into account traditional housing patterns

-Source: United Nations committee on economic, social and cultural rights

- The Press

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