People with disabilities and individuals living in rural areas may struggle to access services

Adequacy of location is one of the key elements of a right to a decent home. Housing which does not have easy access to facilities means that people may struggle to access employment or schooling and may be forced to spend more of their income on transport. “Where people are located affects them in a whole range of ways, such as being able to easily get to a supermarket or doctor, being exposed to pollution or hazards, and their closeness to family or whanau”, Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt explained. “Location is also tied to housing affordability as households may live further away from work or services in order to access affordable housing but this leaves them vulnerable in other ways, particularly for people on lower incomes and with disabilities. Poorly located housing may also contribute to climate change if people need to travel further to access work or education, and key services. The suitability of location of homes will also become more important as we become more exposed to climate change, for example, exposure to flood risk.

As described in The Right to a Decent Home the Human Rights Commission specify that:

Housing must allow access to employment options, healthcare services, accessible transport routes, schools including te reo education, childcare and other social facilities, including for rural and remote communities. Housing should not be so close to pollution sources that inhabitants’ health is jeopardised. 

To measure the right to a decent home by location we have selected two types of indicators around the adequacy of location. The first set use self-reported information. These include:

  • How safe people felt at home and in their neighbourhood
  • Distance to marae tipuna/ancestral marae for Māori
  • The suitability of location of their house or flat
  • How easy it is to access key services where they are living: the nearest supermarket or dairy, doctor, nearest park or green space, and public transport.

The second set of indicators focuses on exposure to air pollution by region. International evidence (for example, Hajat, Hsia & O’Neill, 2015, and Ferguson et al, 2020) suggests that people in lower-income communities are more l likely to face higher levels of pollution than people in wealthier communities1. Exposure to human-made air pollution has huge costs associated with it. Researchers in Aotearoa New Zealand (Kuschel et al, 2022) estimate that the social costs in 2016 totalled $15.6 billion with NO2 exposure (from transport) accounting for just over 60% of the total.

There is also a need to consider indicators related to vulnerability to climate change which requires ongoing research. Currently there are some studies that look at vulnerability in Aotearoa New Zealand, and these have identified that some locations that are at risk from hazards such as flooding are also areas of high deprivation – such as in Porirua City (Mason et al, 2021). Flooding is considered the most common natural hazard in Aotearoa New Zealand and is expected to be influenced by climate change. Populations experiencing higher levels of deprivation may have less resilience, particularly in financial terms, when facing natural disasters. The United Nations Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015) highlights the need for an improved understanding of disaster risk, and vulnerability, and the need for improved and integrated planning (UNDP, 2015).

Has there been progressive realisation in the right to a decent home by location?

Location is one of the most complex indicators for the right to a decent home as improvement depends on a range of factors: historic settlement factors, central and local government policies, particularly around good urban design; environmental standards for air pollution, and future planning around climate change mitigation. Location also needs to meet individual and cultural needs. These needs can be different for different people, and may include living near your family, and chosen community, or being close to marae. Ideally location supports social, cultural, and environmental needs as well as access to work, employment and key services.

When we look at the two key sets of indicators for measuring progress around location – around access to key services and man-made air pollution – there are mixed results. Premature deaths from PM2.5 pollution (where domestic fires was a major contribution) had reduced between 2006 and 2016, whereas deaths because of NO2 pollution (largely transport emissions) had increased. Climate change policies around improvement of transport emissions should help reduce health impacts for both these indicators.

While we only have one data point for access to key amenities, and the suitability of location – these indicators show considerable disparities – based on ethnic group, disability status, and urban/rural location. Overall, we can conclude that progressive realisation of the right to a decent home in terms of location has not been met.

Suitability of location

In the 2018 GSS, people were asked about the suitability of the location of their house or flat. Over half of people (56 percent) said their housing was very suitable and a further 37 percent said the location was suitable. Reasons for a house being unsuitable included being too far from friends or family, employment, or education, services, or quality of the neighbourhood.

Living close to ancestral marae strengthens culture but has economic trade-offs

For Māori, housing and its location is about more than economic outcomes. Many aspects of Māori wellbeing, such as “whānau health, acquisition and use of te reo Māori, care of whenua and the environment” intersect with housing, particularly the location of their home. Stats NZ (2021) found that Māori who knew their marae tipuna and were located within 30 minutes' drive of their ancestral marae were more likely to have helped on the marae, to have engaged in traditional food-gathering practices and care of the environment, and were more likely to be proficient in te reo Māori than those who lived more than a 30-minute drive away.

However, there were economic trade-offs with people who lived near their ancestral marae less likely to be in a current paid job and to have enough income for their everyday needs. This situation must be seen in the context of the urbanisation of Māori that took place in the mid-twentieth century. In 1945, census data showed that just over 20 percent of Māori lived in urban areas; by 2006 over 80 percent lived in urban areas. This migration was driven by a rapidly increasing population, which outstripped the remaining land resources, declining job opportunities in rural areas, as well as the attractions of an urban lifestyle (I Pool and T Kukutai, 2018, see also P Meredith, 2015).

Ease of access

Access to key services such as food and health care, is an important aspect of location. Having a connection to the natural environment is associated with better wellbeing, particularly life satisfaction (Houlden et al, 2018) and better mental health, (White et al, 2021).

People in the 2018 General Social Survey were asked to rate ease of access to some key public facilities in the area or neighbourhood they lived in. We do not have a time series for this data, but we can look at inequalities of access. People in rural areas or small towns, and disabled people found it harder to access key amenities.

In 2018, over half of all people (58 percent) found it very easy to get to their local supermarket or dairy, but ease of access was lower for people in rural areas and people who were disabled, at 33 and 51 percent, respectively.

People rated their ease of access to a doctor as lower at 46 percent, and again people in rural areas and people who were disabled were less likely to say access was very easy.

People were more likely to find it easy to access green space, compared with the other amenities asked in GSS 2018. Two-thirds of said it was very easy to get access to their nearest park or green space. Higher income earners fared the best. Ease of access to nearest green space was lower than the national average for people who were disabled, Pacific peoples and people with Asian ethnicity.

Ease of access to public transport received the lowest rating of the public facilities, with just over one-third of New Zealanders saying it was very easy to use public transport in their area (38 percent). These rates were much lower in rural areas and small towns. Just 4 percent and 18 percent respectively said it was very easy to use public transport where they lived. The most common reason given by people outside main centres was that there was simply no public transport available.


A sense of safety is an intrinsic part of people’s wellbeing in their homes and neighbourhoods. Research has found that living in an unsafe neighbourhood is associated with poorer mental health and lower sense of wellbeing (P Putrik et al, 2019). The General Social Survey has asked people how safe they feel walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark, and on their own in their house at night. In 2021, around 80 percent of people feel safe in their home at night and 60 percent of people felt safe when walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark. These proportions have remained largely unchanged since 2014 when this question was first asked. While there were no significant differences between ethnic groups there was a considerable difference in sense of safety by gender. This gender disparity indicates that an intrinsic difference around sense of safety varies according to both real and perceived levels of vulnerability. However, good urban design can help make places feel and be safer for all people (see


“Air pollution is the greatest environmental threat to public health globally and accounts for an estimated 7 million premature deaths every year. Air pollution and climate change are closely linked as all major pollutants have an impact on the climate and most share common sources with greenhouse gases” UN Environment Programme 2022.

Here we have included information from the Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand (HAPINZ 3.0) study. This study looked at the two main causes of air pollution in New Zealand and estimated the rate of premature deaths, hospitalisations, restricted activity days, asthma and social costs due to air pollution (PM2.5 and NO2) in New Zealand in 2006 and 2016.

Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is very small particles in the air, less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter. The main human-made sources of PM2.5 in New Zealand are domestic fires (wood and coal fires for home heating), motor vehicles, wind-blown dust, and industry. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is also an air-born gas. In New Zealand, most human-made NO2 comes from motor vehicles.

The Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand looked at a range of health effects associated with human-made pollution and found that overall rates of premature deaths for people aged 30+ from air pollution fell between 2006 and 2013 – from 123.6 per 100,000 people in 2006 to 118.8 per 100,000 people. However, rates of hospitalisations increased slightly, from 271 people per 100,000 to 279 people per 100,000.

The data showed that while there had been a decline in premature deaths in people aged 30+ years due to PM2.5 human-made air pollution (largely due to domestic fires), premature death rates for NO2 had increased in all regions except Gisborne. In 2016, rates were highest in Nelson and Canterbury but lowest in Tasman and West Coast.



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