New Rental Housing Standards put improving health outcomes front and centre

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) welcomes the new Healthy Homes Standards that set minimum requirements for warm and dry rental properties.

“There is clear evidence to support minimum standards for indoor temperatures”, said RACP New Zealand President Dr Jeff Brown.

“The WHO recommends an indoor temperature of at least 18-21 degrees Celsius for optimal health, and this range has been endorsed by subsequent research into indoor environments.”

Dr Brown noted that housing is a key determinant of health because it is a critical living environment: we eat, sleep, care for dependents, study, socialise, play and relax at home.

“Housing quality has a tremendous impact on our health and wellbeing.”

For people that spend a lot of time indoors, the minimum temperature needs to be higher, between 21 and 24 degrees Celsius. “Babies, young kids, older people and people with chronic health conditions may have difficulty regulating their temperature need a warmer indoor environment, between 21 and 24 degrees.”

“Each year 6,000 New Zealand children will go to hospital and 1,600 older people will die due to cold, damp and mouldy housing.

“As a paediatrician, I see children every day who are in hospital due to bronchiectasis, skin infections, asthma, and respiratory infections – conditions which are all strongly linked to poverty and poor housing conditions.”

Research in New Zealand has shown that the average winter temperatures in New Zealand living rooms and bedrooms across all housing tenures is between 2 and 5.5 degrees lower than the WHO-endorsed minimum of 18 degrees.

When indoor temperatures are consistently cold people are more likely to experience symptoms associated with respiratory conditions and have reduced circulation which increases risk of heart attack and stroke.

Dr Brown acknowledged that the scale of the remedial work needed to bring housing stock up to the new Standards was significant but waiting five years until full compliance was required was too long.

“Thousands more kids will wind up in hospital – some with lifelong conditions like bronchiectasis – before the Standards are fully implemented in 2024.”

The RACP has been driving its #MakeItTheNorm campaign calling for healthy housing, good work and whānau wellbeing to be the norm for children, families and communities in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“Our College sees this legislation as an opportunity for the government to be held to account on whether or not we are making healthy housing and whānau wellbeing the norm for New Zealanders.”

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