Loafers Lodge fire: We must be answerable to our most vulnerable

The tragic fire at Loafers Lodge has highlighted the need for independent accountability to be developed in our housing system.

Housing is so critical to wellbeing that an independent accountability body is needed to hold governments on track for this fundamental human right, according to Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission.

“The tragic fire at Loafers Lodge highlighted just how many people are harmed by the housing crisis,” says Te Amokapua Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt.

“We let our values deteriorate when it comes to housing. We let profit be more important than the human right to a decent home.

“Many have had no option but to live in unsafe and precarious conditions as a result.”

Downtown Community Ministry Manahautū Stephen Turnock says that the housing crisis is getting worse, and some of the people living in Loafers Lodge were there because they had been unable to access adequate housing or support from government.

“There’s an outflowing of support now for the residents who have been through a traumatic crisis event, but for many of the survivors this is just the latest incident on top of repeated housing trauma and insecurity.

“We need a housing system that uplifts people’s rights, not an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff,” says Turnock.

“When things go so badly wrong, like they did at Loafers Lodge, it’s a crucial moment to identify what we need to do so this does not happen again,” says Hunt.

The Commission has been conducting a housing inquiry, to bring attention to human rights issues and propose solutions within the housing system. A final report will be released in early July.

The Chief Commissioner says a key recommendation of the inquiry is to set up a permanent accountability body with the power to address systemic issues.*

"Accountability is about ensuring standards are respected and promises are kept. It does not need to be about blame or punishment," says Hunt.

Such a body could provide independent review by holding inquiries into issues within the housing system, such as the Loafers Lodge fire and what it has revealed about the poor regulation of boarding houses.

“There are various ways to establish a constructive accountability body, but it must fundamentally reflect te Tiriti o Waitangi," says Hunt.

The government, and those involved in providing housing, have obligations under the right to a decent home and te Tiriti o Waitangi, yet these obligations are rarely acknowledged in housing policies or laws.

“Too often, we are not treating housing as a human right. We must take the opportunity now to put human rights at the centre of our housing efforts,” says Hunt.


* The Commission’s housing inquiry report, Strengthening Accountability and Participation in the Housing System frames constructive accountability as consisting of three elements: monitoring, independent review in relation to agreed standards and promises, and remedial action. The report highlighted that effective and accessible accountability arrangements in relation to the right to a decent home grounded on Te Tiriti o Waitangi do not yet exist either in a Crown or te Ao Māori sense.