The Human Rights Commission says New Zealand’s ongoing housing crisis is a human rights issue, and it’s setting up a formal inquiry to scrutinise exactly what’s going on. 

Announced yesterday, Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt highlighted the failed generational promises from successive governments to “enable everyone to live in a decent home”. 

“For many people, especially young people, the goal of an affordable, healthy, accessible home has actually become more remote,” Commissioner Hunt said. 

He said the housing crisis was a human rights crisis “encompassing homeownership, market renting, state housing and homelessness. It is having a punishing impact especially on the most marginalised in our communities.”

“These serial governments bear a heavy responsibility for this massive human rights failure which is blighting lives and communities.”

News of the national inquiry was released as the Human Rights Commission launched guidelines addressing what the fundamental right to decent housing means in Aotearoa. 

Developed in partnership with the National Iwi Chairs Forum and supported by community housing sector group Community Housing Aotearoa, the guidelines are aimed at ensuring public and private housing providers understand what the right to a decent home means and their responsibility in upholding that.

“One problem is that housing initiatives across the public and private sectors lack adequate explicit recognition of the human right to a decent home,” Commissioner Hunt says. 

“Our guidelines help to address this shortcoming. They provide a framework on which we can build.”

The guidelines will also be used in the Commission’s inquiry into the housing crisis, which is based on the right to a decent home - enshrined in the Human Rights Act. While more specific details of the inquiry, including its terms of reference, are due to be released later this year, Commissioner Hunt says it will focus on certain components of the housing crisis, involve community engagement and “make findings as well as constructive recommendations”.

“The present government has made a promising start on housing, but it remains to be seen if it will do better than its predecessors and address New Zealand’s housing and human rights emergency,” he says.  

“Based on the Guidelines, the inquiry will help ensure the government keeps its promises to everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

New Zealand’s housing crisis and associated problems were recently highlighted at the United Nations, following independent expert Leilani Farha’s visit in February last year. Housing market speculation, unaffordable housing options, limited tenant rights, substandard housing and a lack of social housing are among the problems identified in her June report to the United Nations. 

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