Health fears as house occupancy rises

21:24, Dec 04 2013

Overcrowding in Christchurch homes is worst than ever, new census data reveals, with welfare and health officials concerned it causes epidemics, leaves children vulnerable to abuse and causes mental health problems.

New census data released this week shows the number of homes with two families rose by 33 per cent from 2232 to 2970 between 2006 and 2013.

The number of homes with three or more families has more than doubled from 63 in 2006 to 162 in 2013.

Welfare workers are concerned that overcrowded housing leads to a host of social problems, including exposing children to drug and alcohol abuse and a higher chance of sexual abuse.

Christchurch trauma counsellor and social worker Toalepai Louella Thomsen-Inder said she had seen 30 people living in a four-bedroom house. She said overcrowded housing created many social problems.

"When you have a child that has been sexually abused, you can't have an offender living in the same house," she said.

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"There are relationship troubles as there is no privacy for young couples with children."

She said in some households the earners put their money into a single fund that was spent by the more senior members of the home.

"Sometimes children are right at the end of the line as to where the money goes."

Methodist Mission executive director Mary Richardson said soaring Christchurch rents forced people to move into shared accommodation.

"A lot of our work is about dealing with the consequences of bad housing," she said.

"It is difficult to get anything functioning well in a family when they don't have safe, suitable and warm housing. Health deteriorates, family wellbeing deteriorates and relationships deteriorate."

Overcrowding was causing outbreaks of respiratory diseases in the city, said Canterbury District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey.

Overcrowded housing was the cause of a hepatitis A outbreak in Christchurch in March that infected 12 people in one family, he said.

"There are significant increases in infections and mental health issues associated with crowded households," he said.

"It should be a concern to Christchurch that there are more multi-family households."

Humphrey said overcrowding could also affect education as children had nowhere private to complete homework.

University of Canterbury economist Eric Crampton analysed the new census data and found regions with rising house prices had more homes with multiple families.

Crampton called for housing consent rules to be eased so more homes can be built faster.

"Councils should make it easier for developers to increase density in town and build more houses on the edge of town. People saying they don't want high density housing in their backyard force this sad situation to eventuate."

Latest figures show that Christchurch residential building activity grew by 20 per cent in the September quarter.

The Press