UN calls attention to the positive role of the right to a decent home in tackling New Zealand’s housing crisis

UN calls attention to the positive role of the right to a decent home in tackling New Zealand’s housing crisis

June 22, 2021

The housing crisis is a human rights crisis in New Zealand according to the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on adequate housing in a new report officially tabled over night at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Housing speculation, a lack of affordable housing options, limited protection for tenants, substandard housing, the absence of an overarching Te Tiriti and human rights based housing strategy, and a lack of adequate social housing or state subsidised housing are the main causes of the crisis according to the report. 

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt has welcomed the report and encouraged local and central government to seriously consider the 27 recommendations made by the UN Special Rapporteur Leilani Farha.

“The government has binding human rights and Te Tiriti obligations to create conditions which permit everyone to enjoy a warm, dry, safe, accessible and affordable home. While government has made progress on housing in New Zealand, the findings of this report from the United Nations confirm that problems run deep. Human rights and the UN report can help to address the crisis.” 

In a pre-recorded video to the UN Human Rights Council welcoming the report, Hunt used the opportunity to call for the human right to a decent home grounded on Te Tiriti o Waitangi to be realised in New Zealand.  

“Of course, the right to a decent home does not provide a magic solution to a complex crisis. There is no magic solution. But human rights can help. They are tools — so let’s use them to the advantage of everyone in New Zealand. As the Rapporteur says, Canada has recently recognised the right to adequate housing and adopted a human rights approach within its national housing policy. Why not in New Zealand?,” Hunt told the UN. 

During a visit to New Zealand from 10 to 19 February 2020, at the invitation of the Government, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Leilani Farha, investigated housing as a human right in New Zealand. She spoke with government officials, residents, researchers and representatives of civil society organisations in visits to Auckland, Christchurch, Kaitaia and Wellington. 

The findings of her visit were published in a report tabled at the UN Human Rights Council on June 22 in Geneva. Farha wrote that “legal protection of the right to adequate housing remains relatively weak” in New Zealand.   

Housing has become a “speculative asset” in New Zealand rather than a “home” wrote the Special Rapporteur — calling attention to on-going housing speculation due to low interest rates coupled with an underdeveloped rental housing system with inadequate tenant protections.

“Successive governments have not delivered on housing for many years. For decades governments failed to create the conditions which permit everyone to enjoy the right to a decent home. Because of this, up and down the country families have suffered serious, avoidable hardship. Ms Farha’s findings reinforce this reality,” Hunt said.

The Human Rights Commission is set to release framework guidelines on the right to a decent home to help both duty-bearers (e.g. local and central government) and rights-holders (e.g. individuals, communities, iwi and hapū) advance the right to a decent home grounded on Te Tiriti. 

“A living-framework for understanding what the right to a decent home means in our distinctive national context, and how it can help individuals, communities, hapū, iwi, housing policy makers and practitioners, is needed in New Zealand. Our new guidelines, grounded on Te Tiriti and international human rights law, will outline what the right to a decent home means in the unique context of Aotearoa.”