Housing health link to be studied

Some of Dunedin's 18,000 rental properties, tenants and landlords look set be involved in a study to see how a housing warrant of fitness will affect people's health and wellbeing.

In an announcement yesterday, the University of Otago, Wellington, said the study, in conjunction with the Dunedin and Wellington city councils, would be introduced next year to ensure homes had adequate ventilation, heating, safety and hygiene for present and prospective tenants to ensure health and wellbeing.

Dunedin City Council events and community development manager Rebecca Williams said the warrant of fitness (WOF) for rental homes was nowhere near set in stone, but the study would show what effect it would have.

"At this stage [the council] have approved to look at it further. The council wants a further report before committing fully,'' she said.

A motion confirming the council's ‘‘interest in participating'' in the study was carried at a meeting on June 8.

University of Otago housing health and research programme researcher Dr Lucy Telfar Barnard said more comprehensive measures for rental properties were needed.

"[The WOF] will be a real first step to improving the quality of what's available for tenants,'' Dr Telfar Barnard said.

"It's really hard when you're going around looking at places to know what's good. We ... need basic standards for ... things like ventilation, heating and safety.''

She noted nearly half of all New Zealanders lived in rented accommodation and most in Dunedin were not warm or dry enough to keep people healthy.

The Otago Daily Times previously reported 24 Dunedin homes failed the warrant of fitness in an initial assessment last year.

"We've done research in our group that shows fixing up these [things] is a good return on investment for the country.''

Dr Telfar Barnard noted that with a housing warrant of fitness, claims to ACC were significantly reduced.

Effects would be studied extensively using a 29-point healthy housing index. Checks during the study would be carried out by "trained, independent inspectors''.

"We expect there to be an improvement in respiratory health in particular [and] a reduction in injuries in the home,'' Dr Telfar Barnard said.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull backed the announcement.

"We know that families who live in poor quality housing spend a high proportion of their money on energy bills [and] those unable to afford to heat their home sufficiently suffer poor health.

"Our city has an ambitious goal of making sure that everyone ... lives in a warm and cosy home. [This] would be a very positive step towards this goal.''

The research was planned to be completed by 2019.

The council would assess the study's impact early next year.

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