In 'da House | Issue 24

In 'da House | Issue 24

Cold as Flat

In my second year at Otago, I went to bed each night wearing thermals under my flannel pyjamas, and slept under two duvets and a sleeping bag. In my third year, ice formed on the inside of my bedroom windows overnight. In my fourth year, strange black liquid ran down the hallway wall.

You probably live in a flat like that now. You might even live in one of those flats. My sympathies.

Living in cold, damp flats is widely regarded as part of the scarfie experience. We all brag about it. Ten years on (oh god, has it really been that long?), I dine out on my tales of scarfie slumdom. The rose-tinted glasses of hindsight allow me to forget how cold and shitty it was. I remember only the bracing, character-building fun of it all.

And maybe, for strapping young healthy scarfies like yourselves, there is an element of truth in that (though it probably doesnít seem that fun or character-building when your flat makes you so sick it impacts on your grades).

Still, by valourising the student experience of living in cold, damp homes, weíve done a major disservice to another demographic Ė children.

Kids are not well equipped to cope with poor living conditions. Cold, damp, overcrowded houses have a major impact on their health, and poor health in childhood severely harms their prospects long term.

The recent Experts Advisory Group report on Child Poverty noted that 70% of poor children in New Zealand live in rental properties. We also know that very few rental homes have been insulated under the otherwise successful Warm Up New Zealand Heat Smart insulation scheme. Cold, damp, overcrowded homes are making our kids sick, and it costs us all in the long term.

Improving the quality of rental houses is probably the most cost-effective thing we can do to improve child wellbeing. To do that, we need mandatory minimum standards for rental properties, including a liveable standard of insulation, heating, and energy efficiency.

And guess what?! It just so happens that I have a memberís bill in the ballot to introduce said minimum standards. Nice! (To give credit where itís due, it was drafted by my colleague Gareth Hughes. But itís mine now. Booyah.)

So my old flats (and yours) might not pass muster in their current state. So we might lose some bragging rights. Weíd also save some children. Seems worth it.
This article first appeared in Issue 24, 2012.
Posted 4:57pm Sunday 16th September 2012 by Holly Walker.