Human Rights Commission gets tough on sleeping rough

sleeping rough nz

Whole families in Manurewa are sleeping rough in laundromats. People are waiting for years for social housing. Successive governments have failed to address the growing housing crisis.

Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt admits in the past the Commission has failed to hold successive governments accountable for their housing failures.

Not anymore though.

The Commission is launching a big push, including a new section on its website to educate the public on what the “right to a decent home” means: habitability, affordability, cultural appropriateness, accessibility, location, infrastructure, services and security of tenure.

The right to a decent home does not include sleeping rough – on park benches, streets, laundromats, waiting for years for social housing, and run-down rentals.

Local government also will be under the Commission’s spotlight from next year. It’ll be looking to see if local government is doing all it can to ensure people have access to a decent home.

Local government is obliged to, Hunt says.

“Are their district plans up to date? Are they reflecting the right to a decent home? Are there fast-track procedures for consents with the right to a decent home?”

In August 2021, the Commission released its framework defining the right to a decent home.

The Commission has also been compiling statistics to help the public judge whether the Government is making progress in providing access to decent homes.

Numbers like state houses per head of population have improved in recent years. Others, like deprivation, have declined.

“I do want to emphasise that this Government, more than any other Government for decades, is taking the housing crisis seriously, and it really does deserve credit for a number of housing initiatives,” says Hunt.

He believes the housing crisis occurred because nobody held governments to account for delivering on housing – a result of abolishing the Housing Commission in 1988.

The Commission should have done more and sooner, he admits.

“But nobody was holding Government to account for its promise to do everything it could to deliver the right to a decent home … the human right was just about invisible and that is inconsistent with the promises New Zealand was making in Geneva, in New York, in the United Nations.”

That failure is why he calls the crisis ‘a failure in democracy’, he says.

The media, the Commission, judges and Parliament all failed to hold the Government to account in relation to this human right.

That right is recognised in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. New Zealand signed up to the declaration and maintained a Human Rights Commission since 1977.

“The right to a decent home requires the Government to take all reasonable steps towards realising the right to a decent home for everyone.”

“The Government does have this obligation to do everything it can to progressively realise this human right.”


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News category: New Zealand.

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