New accountability measures needed to help end housing crisis

December 15, 2021

The first report in the Human Rights Commission’s ongoing inquiry into the right to a decent home has called for new accountability measures to track whether the right is being realised for everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“Decades of failure, neglect, and broken promises by successive governments have created a failure of public policy and democracy,” said Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt. His comments echo the conclusion reached in April by the United Nations which described New Zealand’s lack of affordable housing as a human rights crisis needing urgent attention. 

The Commission’s report calls for: 

  • an Act of Parliament which sets out key principles and Tiriti o Waitangi obligations to guide all housing initiatives  
  • an independent accountability mechanism for constructively holding decision-makers to account and to encourage continuous progress 
  • an independent advisory and advocacy group – grounded on Te Tiriti o Waitangi – to support informed and evidence-based participation in housing policy, including those affected by the housing crisis. 

In August the Commission announced it would be holding an inquiry into the right to a decent home and published Framework Guidelines on the right to a decent home in Aotearoa: Aratohu tika tangata ki te whai whare rawaka i Aotearoa

Mr Hunt said the Commission was concerned that the divide between those who owned their own home, and those that did not, was a major cause of resentment between New Zealanders of different generations and cultures.  

“Many people will continue to live in degrading, unaffordable and unhealthy conditions. The voices and concerns of the most vulnerable are the ones that go unheard, despite successive governments’ repeated commitments under specific human rights treaties – for example for children, indigenous and disabled people,” he said. 

“For Māori, insecure housing is too often a legacy of the seizure and purchase of land by the Crown during colonisation. As such, governments have been failing to deliver what was pledged to their partner in Te Tiriti. 

“The Government has a legal duty to honour its international commitment to the right to a decent home and must deliver on this for all New Zealanders,” Mr Hunt said.  

The Commission’s report found, however, that there were no effective accountability mechanisms to ensure the right to a decent home was realised.  

Aotearoa’s housing system needs mechanisms for meaningful accountability and public participation grounded on statutory principles. Without these, New Zealanders’ right to a decent home would continue to be denied. 

While the Commission welcomed the recent housing policies issued by the Government, particularly MAIHI Ka Ora and the Government Policy Statement on Housing and Urban Development, it warns these will not succeed on their own. 

“Accountability is a crucial feature of good governance, democracy, and human rights. Without it these policies and statements can easily become window-dressing. Accountability provides a positive focus on what does and does not work,” Mt Hunt said. 

The Commission is also developing a dataset to track whether Aotearoa is making progress towards realising the right to a decent home. The first measure shows housing is becoming less affordable rather than more. Throughout 2022 the Commission will publish new data on habitability, accessibility, security of tenure and cultural adequacy.


More information about our Housing Inquiry is available here.

Measuring progress towards the right to a decent home is available here.