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The health costs of New Zealand's poor housing could be more than $145 million a year, a new study shows.
Motu Economic and Public Policy Research fellow Dr Lynn Riggs, based at the University of Otago in Wellington, said that was the cost of ACC claims and hospitalisation costs from preventable injuries and hospitalisations due solely to poor housing conditions.
The study results came a day after the Government announced new rules requiring every rental home in New Zealand to have a heater in the living room and an extractor fan in the kitchen and bathroom.
Dr Riggs, who did the study with researchers from He Kainga Oranga, the Housing and Health Research Programme, said the costs were solely attributable to homes that were cold, damp, mouldy or dangerous to live in.
"That's not even counting additional costs that occur due to illness and injury caused by poor housing conditions or the associated costs to society more broadly.''
The study found damp or mouldy homes caused more than 35,000 nights in hospital with an associated cost of around $35 million.
Dr Riggs said that $35 million did not include costs of time lost from work or school while patients were in hospital, nor did it include GP visits or pharmaceutical costs.
Statistics were worse the lower the income of the household, and rental properties were most problematic.
Nearly 2000 nights in hospital were due to homes being cold, with a cost of more than $2 million per year.
"While it is expensive to fix problems with housing, not fixing them is also costly,'' Dr Riggs said.
Dr Riggs presented the results today at the University of Otago Wellington Public Health Summer School, which is also hosting the Southern Hemisphere launch of the new World Health Organization housing and health guidelines.
University of Otago public health Prof Philippa Howden-Chapman, a co-author of the research and chair of the international guidelines group, said the guidelines were developed because WHO members recognised the importance of housing to health.
"The guidelines are a world first and bring together the most recent evidence to provide practical recommendations on how to improve housing conditions.
"We are hopeful the guidelines will assist in helping to turn around the type of preventable health costs identified in this latest research.''
Prof Howden-Chapman said the launch of the guidelines was a significant event for New Zealand at a time the Government was embarking on an ambitious building programme.