Renters are living in poorer conditions than homeowners and are
less empowered to improve their housing situation, according to a
study carried out in Newtown.
The study was carried out by fourth-year medical students at the
University of Otago, Wellington, who conducted face-to-face
interviews on the street and in cafes in Newtown with 80 renters
and 80 homeowners, as part of a five-week research project with
University of Otago, Wellington's Department of Public Health. They
are presenting their findings at a public lecture on Friday.
News from University of Otago - Wellington
Student Faye Sherlaw says while renters and owners who were
interviewed had the same level of knowledge of how housing
conditions can affect their families' health, renters perceived
themselves as having less ability to improve those conditions.
"Research has shown that housing conditions such as cold, damp,
mould, injury hazards and overcrowding are associated with poor
health. It's important that people have knowledge about these
conditions but, equally critically, they need to have the power to
act on it. Our study suggests often they don't, especially if
they're renting," Sherlaw says.
Interviews with renters revealed that the main barriers to
improving their situation were money and landlords preventing them
making improvements to their homes, she says.
Both renters and homeowners identified government subsidies for
insulation and for other housing improvements as top interventions
that would help them improve their housing conditions.
A warrant of fitness on housing and more information about how
to keep their house healthy and safe for children were also
frequently cited as desired interventions.
The findings of the study support overseas studies that suggest
the capability of renters to improve their housing is lower than
that of homeowners, Sherlaw says.
The students also asked questions regarding rheumatic fever to
gain insights in to whether the Ministry of Heath's Rheumatic Fever
Prevention Programme is improving knowledge in the community.
With Māori and Pacific children over-represented in rental
housing and also in the incidence of rheumatic fever, this latest
research should be taken into consideration when deciding what
approach to use when tackling the issues around housing conditions
and prevention of this serious disease, Sherlaw says.
While the interviews showed that Māori and Pacific parents are
getting the message about the importance of getting sore throats
checked in case of "strep" throat which can lead to rheumatic
fever, the study highlights the importance of interventions that
empower renters to make their homes healthier, she says.
"Our concern is that educating Māori and Pacific on housing
conditions that can contribute to the incidence of rheumatic fever
may not change the exposure of children to those conditions as
those families are more likely to feel unable to change their
Department of Public Health Professor Michael Baker says the
students' findings provide valuable insights into the differences
in levels of empowerment between renters and homeowners.
"This unique research is a strong reminder that it is not enough
to simply exhort parents to provide their children with healthy,
safe housing. These parents know this already. What they need is
concrete policies and programmes that encourage landlords to do the
right thing and upgrade their housing. This means continuing
subsides to support home insulation, introducing a housing warrant
of fitness, and other actions to rapidly improve the quality of
rental housing which is where most of our vulnerable children are
living," Professor Baker says.