Cold, damp homes at root of hardship

Last updated 12:58 16/07/2014
Therese Phillips
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ
CHALLENGE: Jared Haruru with his son, Ehaia Haruru, at the Victory home that he struggles to keep warm during winter.

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In the second part of a series looking at issues facing struggling households, Stacey Knott examines the impacts of poor housing.

There is a large chunk of Nelson's population who live in homes that are low to the ground, poorly insulated, and plagued by dampness. They are sick homes that contribute to health problems for their occupants.

Father of three Jarad Haruru and partner Grace Rapata rent their Emano St, Victory, home with their three children, aged under 4.

He says his landlords are "awesome people" who help them out as much as possible, but living in a gully is tough on the low-income family.

Haruru works at the Waimea kohanga reo. He's on the minimum wage, working 30 hours a week. It's a job he does out of passion.

His partner recently found work. She often works more than 40 hours a week, getting just above the minimum wage. They work hard, and are good with their money.

But between them they are "just keeping afloat."

Before Grace found work, they were living off Haruru's income. Then he sprained his ankle and was off work for six weeks, only earning 80 per cent of his wages.

His forgiving landlords let him pay back the rent once he was back at work. He is still paying off what was owed, and they were reliant on the goodwill of family to help them through.

The couple get paid on alternating weeks. They have two cars needed for getting to work and once the bills are paid and groceries done, there's only $120 left to cover gas and all the other expenses, like doctor visits, and the children's expenses.

There's no spare change to get a takeaway coffee each day, or any of life's other small luxuries, he says.

They will try to save to have a date night, when they treat themselves to the movies or dinner once a month.

Haruru says keeping the house warm in winter is a big issue.

All three children have asthma, so keeping them warm is crucial to their health.

"It's a damp house. In the winter we all sleep in the same room because it's too cold. Or we sleep in the lounge with the heat pump on, but the heat pump is not a cheap thing to run."

At times he had to empty the dehumidifier every two hours and the children constantly had running noses.

"We have to wipe down the house all the time for mould because it's quite damp."

To afford their hefty power bills, Haruru had to work for his father on the weekends, but they now pay a set rate.

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"One month it was $900 from running the heat pump, dehumidifier and the electric heaters to keep the house warm in winter. We got disconnected and Dad ended up paying for it all."

The family had been gifted a wall heater from Glenn Bisdee, who installs them in homes through his Keeping Kids Warm scheme. Haruru says the heater took the chill off the room.

The family hopes eventually to find a home with a fireplace.

Haruru supports a warrant of fitness programme for rental homes that assesses their suitability.

A trial programme earlier this year on 140 rental homes involved the Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin councils, the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), New Zealand Green Building Council and the University of Otago, Wellington.

About 94 per cent of the homes inspected in the field trial did not pass at least one checklist criterion, but most failed on only a handful of the 31 inspection targets on the WOF checklist.

The targets included weathertightness, insulation, ventilation, lighting, heating, condition of appliances and general building safety.

Nelson city councillor and Victory resident Matt Lawrey says the hardships many Nelsonians face are compounded by landlords charging them for things that they shouldn't have to pay for.

Lawrey knows people whose landlords have made them pay for insulation and major plumbing jobs.

"There are also landlords charging their tenants the full price of the property's water when, in fact, the tenants are only supposed to pay for the cubic metres of water they use. They're not supposed to pay the line charges."

He says many tenants don't know their rights "and the ones who do are too scared to exercise them because they fear they'll get kicked out of their homes. These are people who are cash-strapped as it is without having to pay for things that are actually their landlord's responsibility".

Lawrey says it's "ridiculous" that landlords aren't compelled to provide their tenants with some kind of fixed heating.

Victory Community Centre nurse Penny Molnar and centre manager Kindra Douglas agree that those in their area and in nearby Washington Valley and the foot of the Grampians - all areas with high deprivation on the index - need better housing.

"They are sick buildings. The damp is so penetrated into them," Douglas says.

She says the cost of housing in Nelson - one of the least affordable centres in the country - is a high barrier to better quality homes for those on low incomes.

The 2013 census showed the average rent in Toi Toi was $270. Molnar and Douglas have found it common for people here to be paying 50 to 60 per cent of their income on housing.

"There's nothing left for food, let alone anything else."

Cold, damp homes were the norm for many families, with resulting health problems, Molnar says.

They see children with respiratory issues and chronic ear infections. There were also issues of costs of getting to the doctor and paying for the visit.

"There's layer after layer that keeps them down . . .The number of people who are on a low wage, and casual wage, you can never get ahead."

With a high number of renters, came insecurity.

"We have heard of cases where people have moved to gain $30 a week's rent. The social cost of that is huge - you can't get ahead," Molnar says.

Nelson Tasman Housing Trust director Keith Preston says poor and unaffordable housing underpins so many aspects of a person and family's social and economic wellbeing.

"If the housing wasn't right then things went wrong - health, education, crime, secure warm affordable housing underpinned everything."

If people were in better, affordable housing it meant they had more disposable income to spend on a better quality of life, and their family's lives, he said.

The trust aimed to help people with lower to middle incomes who could not qualify for state housing or entering the private sector.

To date, the trust has 32 households in the Nelson region. It also provides housing for those in emergency situations for up to two weeks.

He agrees that renting creates insecurity, and there were high financial and social costs with that.

"You can get booted out even by the best landlord at a short notice.

"There's lots of additional costs one would have to bear [with moving], and it's not worth starting a vege garden if you are going to get kicked out.

"It's that uncertainty around schooling and everything if you have to suddenly move."

Preston says the trust wanted to do more in the region, but Crown funding has dried up.

"The Government would put in up to 50 per cent of the cost of the scheme. But it blew its budget after 18 months, which has left the trust without any funding prospects until next July. "That's been a blow to us."

Preston wants to see much more done to create affordable housing in Nelson, and hopes affordable housing would be a top election issue this year.

Nelson City Council says more than half of Nelson's homes were built before 1978, when minimum ratings for insulation in ceilings, walls and floors were introduced. The council's Clean Heat Warm Homes programme had helped home owners install improved systems, and it will review woodburner rules in its air quality plan.

The council was also looking at how it can help improve affordability in the Nelson market through incentives, advocacy and partnerships with groups like the housing trust. The council has a four-year contract with the trust to provide emergency housing and help families into long-term housing.

- The Nelson Mail

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