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Housing as a Human Right

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This post is based on the Tenants Protection Association (Christchurch) Rental Survey 2013. (See http://tpa.org.nz/sites/tpa.org.nz/files/TPA%20Rental%20Survey%20Report%202013_0.pdf).  This is my summary, but I urge you to read the report for yourselves.

Mould in a home in Christchurch

Mould in a home in Christchurch

The report sets out a series of recommendations including the abolishment of letting fees, that notices to tenants to terminate a tenancy must be given with reason, that the warrant of Fitness for all rental properties is extended to the private sector as well as the development of a register of rental properties and landlords. Here are some of their findings:

  • 70% of tenants reported having 1 or more rent increases in the 2 years post-earthquakes
  • The Inner North area reported the highest percentage of tenants receiving rent increases (81.1%)
  • The North West area reported the lowest percentage of tenants receiving rent increases (52.2%)
  • Average total rent increase per week for all areas – $42.90
  • Inner North area shows the highest average rent increase amount – $60 per week
  • 88% of tenants reported paying over 25% of their annual income in rent
  • Over half of tenants (57.8%) reported paying over 40% of their annual income in rent
  • 34% of tenants reported paying over 50% of their annual income in rent
  •  8% of tenants reported paying over 75% of their annual income in rent
  • 34.7% of tenants reported they now have to find other accommodation due to not being able to afford the rental increases
  • Drainage of wastewater was reported to be a problem in over a quarter of tenant households (25.6%)
  • Almost half of tenants reported mould in their households (48%)
  • Less than half of tenanted dwellings were reported to be insulated (40%) and 26.9% reported they did not know if there was any insulation
  • The majority of tenants reported living in earthquake damaged homes (60%) with problems ranging from minor cracks to major structural issues

” The rising cost of rental housing has clearly had significant effects on tenants, particularly the vulnerable and disadvantaged such as young people, the elderly, solo parents, families with low incomes, people with health issues, and people with poor credit ratings. Many tenants have reported incidents of rent gouging (excessive rent increases e.g. $80per week, $100per week and more) which has far-reaching effects on tenants’ lives, especially those on fixed incomes.”

Housing is a Human Right and probably the most critical requirement after a natural disaster. And as with most things it is the lower socio-economic groups who tend to suffer most acutely after disasters. Exacerbating this problem is the Government, which sees housing as a private sector business and favours the market model in relation to supply and demand. What they did not factor into the equation is that post disaster situations do not fall into the usual market economy scenario.

The Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Operational Guidelines on the Protection of Persons in Natural Disasters – see http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/reports/2011/1/06%20operational%20guidelines%20nd/0106_operational_guidelines_nd.pdf)  make specific reference to rights related to housing; land and property; livelihoods and secondary and higher education. The Guidelines stress that people do not lose their basic human rights as a consequence of natural disasters. Human rights are defined in terms of not only civil and political rights but also economic, social and cultural rights as well. It is to be remembered that we, though affected by disaster, do not live in a legal vacuum but belong to a group of “countries that have (supposedly)ratified international and regional human rights instruments and enacted constitutions, laws, rules and institutions that should protect these rights.”

The principles under the IASC Operational Guidelines which are applicable are:

“C.1.1 The right to property should be respected and protected. It should be understood as the right to enjoy one’s house, land and other property and possessions without interference and discrimination. Property related interventions should be planned accordingly. Property rights, whether individual or collective, should be respected whether they are based on formal titles, customary entitlements or prolonged and uncontested possession or occupancy.”

Has this happened in Christchurch?

“C.1.4 When existing administrative or judicial procedures are not able to deal with the caseload without undue delay, special mechanisms with simplified procedures to consider competing claims to land and property should be put in place and made accessible without discrimination.”

Has this happened in Christchurch?

“C.2.3 All affected groups and persons should be consulted and participate in the planning and implementation of transitional shelter and permanent housing programmes, for tenants and owners/occupiers. Any decision to move from emergency shelter to transitional shelter or permanent housing requires the full participation and decision or agreement of the persons concerned.”

Has this happened in Christchurch?

New Zealand’s Human Rights Commissioner Mr. David Rutherford stated: “Attention to maintaining communities intact also needs to be factored into rebuilding housing in the recovery period. It also needs to be remembered that the longer the displacement from housing the greater the risk of greater and longer lasting human rights violations”,

The red zones in Christchurch have left residents with little choice about relocation other than to move inland.  The United Nations Committee on Economic and Social and Cultural Rights makes it clear that where forced evictions take place there must be genuine consultation with those affected, notice, information, legal remedies and legal aid. Everyone has the right to ‘an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions”,  (Art. 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights).

These statements represent the Government’s obligation to the people of New Zealand. There is an emphasis throughout the IASC Guidelines to a speedy transition from shelter to permanent housing.

“C.2.4 Should evictions become unavoidable in situations other than forced evacuations and despite consultation and participation, all the following guarantees should be put in place:

(a) An opportunity for genuine consultation with those affected;

(b) Adequate and reasonable notice prior to the scheduled date of eviction;

(c) The timely provision of information in an accessible format on the eviction and future use of the land;

(d) The presence of government officials during an eviction;

(e) The proper identification and registration of all persons being evicted;

(f ) The proper identification of all persons carrying out the eviction;

(g) The prohibition of evictions during bad weather or at night;

(h) Provision of legal remedies; and

(i) Provision of legal aid, where needed, to seek redress from the courts.”

Has this happened in Christchurch?

The more you look, the more obvious it becomes that the Government is complicit in the plight of the many thousands in Christchurch who have had their rights ignored, their health affected and their equity destroyed and NO political party is addressing the issue.

Resources

http://www.laws.canterbury.ac.nz/documents/hr_impacts.pdf

Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment “Housing Pressures in Christchurch: A Summary of the Evidence” (March 2013), p.8.

Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment “Housing Pressures in Christchurch: A Summary of the Evidence” (March 2013), p.6.

Risks to Health from Moulds and Other Fungi, Occupational Safety and Health, Dept. of Labour, Workplace Health Bulletin No. 17, Nov. 2002

http://tpa.org.nz/sites/tpa.org.nz/files/TPA%20Rental%20Survey%20Report%202013_0.pdf

Author: Sarah Miles

Trained as a lawyer, psychotherapist and mediator. My goal is to make my voice heard for the causes in which I believe so as to improve and contribute to a more sustainable and equitable society. I believe in the enormous power of the human spirit and the power within each of us to effect major change. "The only triumph over evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing". https://thechristchurchfiasco.wordpress.com/

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