the six dimensions of housing adequacy

Adequate food, shelter and clothing are the basis of the hierarchy of human needs.1

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms access to adequate housing as a vital part of human rights.2 Housing fulfils the basic human physical need for shelter but also satisfies social requirements. A house provides a centre for an individual and the basis for family life, emerging as an important symbol of social standing and aspirations. Thus the fulfilment of housing needs is a complex process.

Where inadequacies exist in housing, they manifest themselves via readily recognisable elements; Statistics New Zealand describes six interrelated dimensions of housing adequacy:

Housing affordability relates to the ability of households to rent or purchase housing in a locality of choice at a reasonable price, the capacity of households to meet ongoing housing costs, and the degree that discretionary income is available to achieve an acceptable standard of living. Affordable housing should leave enough residual income to cover other basic living costs, as well as allowing households to save for irregular but unavoidable costs such as medical and dental care.

Housing suitability relates to the ability of households to access:

  • Housing that is appropriate to their current needs
  • Housing that is sufficiently flexible to cater for future requirements and long-term goals
  • Preferred tenure and dwelling type
  • Local opportunity (such as employment and education)
  • Local infrastructure and public amenities.
  • Infrastructure includes the components of network utilities (gas, electricity, telecommunications, water supply), transportation (including sea and air ports, roading (bridges, footpaths) and parking space), and solid and liquid waste management (such as water treatment plants, sewer, garbage services and recycling).

Housing habitability relates to:

  • The physical condition of the dwelling (structurally, internally and externally)
  • The existence of basic household amenities (such as cooking, washing and heating facilities)
  • The condition of the environment surrounding the home.
  • The essential components of habitability are that the house (and environment where relevant) is healthy to live in, is energy efficient (takes less energy to build and operate), and is resource efficient (uses fewer non-renewable resources and makes efficient use of renewable resources).

Tenure security is one of the six dimensions of housing adequacy.

Security of tenure offers dwelling occupants the confidence that their tenure is guaranteed for a specified period of time to which they have agreed. Tenure is subject to preference and aspiration. For example not everyone aspires to own their own home and many people are quite content to rent and invest their money in other areas. However the concept of tenure “security” is defined in terms of well-being and independence as opposed to preference and aspiration.

In the model of tenure security below, owning a home without a mortgage is considered the pinnacle of the hierarchy, while chronic homelessness is considered the least desirable tenure situation. While the stages at each extreme of the model are considered absolutes in terms of tenure “security”, the phases between are subject to debate.

Model of Tenure Security

  • Dwelling owned without a mortgage
  • Dwelling owned with mortgage
  • Dwelling provided rent free
  • Dwelling rented (state)
  • Dwelling rented (private)
  • Transitionally and episodically homeless
  • Chronically homeless
  • Freedom from Crowding Dimension

Crowding in dwellings relates to situations where the number of people residing in a household exceeds the ability of the household to provide adequate shelter and services to its members.

Crowding in dwellings may arise for a number of reasons including cultural preference, social cohesion and accepting high occupant density as a means of containing cost.

There is no contemporary official statistic or index of household crowding in New Zealand. In its legal statutes however, New Zealand does have an official definition of crowding. The Housing Improvement Regulations of 1947 specify an approved number of people per bedroom, taking into account their age, sex and relationship, relative to bedroom size. These regulations provide for a precise measure of what constitutes crowding and can be applied on a case-by-case basis. However census information cannot be used to measure crowding levels on this basis as bedroom size is not collected.

Generally, the simplest measures of crowding based on official statistics involve comparisons between numbers of bedrooms per household and number of people per bedroom. However, it is more useful to apply a crowding index that is sensitive to both household size and composition. There are a number of crowding indexes available that incorporate these concepts, these are useful not only for ascertaining crowding levels but also to identify the extent of bedroom underutilisation.

To discriminate is to act on the basis of a difference between one person or group from another person or group, to make a distinction unjustly on the grounds of race, colour or sex. (Oxford University Press (1982), “The Concise Oxford Dictionary”, Oxford, p.274)

1 Abraham Maslow, a noted American psychologist, developed a hierarchy of needs that comprises five levels. Level (1) is physiological, consisting of those things that keep us alive, food, water and shelter. These lower needs must be satisfied before the following higher needs can be achieved: (2) Safety and Security, (3) Belonging and Social, (4) Esteem and Status, (5) Self Realisation.
2 Article 25. 1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. Article 17. 1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. 2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

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