Pouring a New Cup of Tea for Whanganui

There once was a family who put salt in their tea thinking it was sugar. Their tea did not get sweet so they added more salt. But it still did not get sweet. They complained bitterly, and kept adding more salt.

Finally, someone convinced them that they should contact the Old Woman from Philadelphia. Reluctantly they did. And what did the Old Woman from Philadelphia tell them? “You need to pour a new cup of tea.”

From all appearances Shamubeel Eaqub is not old, is not a woman, and in all likelihood not from Philadelphia. But his message regarding regional economies is essentially the same. “We keep on trying to use the same broken models in terms of regional development,” he told the Chronicle during his visit to Whanganui three weeks ago. Screen shot 2014-09-19 at 6.52.14 PM

He spoke about short-sighted policy that inevitably failed, and added, “We shouldn’t get hung up on growth for the sake of growth.” Does that sound like what a middle-aged man from Detroit has been suggesting through a certain weekly column on page B5 in the Chronicle?

Eaqub went on in his interview to advocate the asking of hard questions and that “We’ve got to shock people into talking about these issues because it’s uncomfortable. We need to create the urgency for action.”

Anyone familiar with the low quality of housing stock in New Zealand and its negative effects on health would echo his words. For example, Philippa Howden-Chapman from the Otago School of Medicine recently shared the following:

  • “New Zealand is famous in international public health circles for the dreadful state of our housing.”
  • 1/3 of New Zealanders shiver in their homes
  • 180 different types of mould have been found in NZ homes
  • some cot deaths are related to cold homes because parents bring babies into their own beds as the rest of the house is frigid

These sentiments are shared by Mike Underhill, the Chief Executive of EECA, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority.

  • Over a million homes built before 1978 do not come close to meeting the current standards for energy efficiency
  • “Most older homes in New Zealand are in poor condition.”
  • at temperatures below 12 degrees inside a home there is an increased rate of cardiac arrest, and NZ experiences 1600 more deaths each winter compared to summers

Wait, it gets worse. New Zealanders spend up to 75% of their lives in their homes, and unhealthy homes have been linked to learning and behaviour problems in children at school. Unhealthy homes cost our medical system tens of millions of dollars annually due to increased hospital visits. The list continues.

But other studies have shown that every dollar spent on insulation saves five dollars in medical expenses. A recent study on Auckland’s Retrofit Your Home programme showed a Social Return on Investment (SROI) ratio of 3.1:1, with “positive social and economic outcomes.”

 Screen shot 2014-09-19 at 6.59.49 PM Screen shot 2014-09-19 at 7.00.30 PM

Mike Underhill from EECA also recognizes the co-benefits of energy efficiency, and recognizes benefits to the nation valued at over a billion dollars. Philippa Howden-Chapman believes “Housing can lead the way in the green economy,” and cited research showing that children living in well-insulated homes miss two less days of school during the winter and have reduced asthma symptoms. The list of benefits from healthy homes is a long as the list of problems with unhealthy homes.

In the pages of the Chronicle I have read: principals complaining about absenteeism and poor student outcomes; social service people complaining about landlords not providing insulation for tenants; and, most recently, Children’s Commissioner Dr. Russell Wills suggest that our Council’s role is “vital in fighting child poverty.”

Ironically, it was this Council that summarily rejected a robust proposal to improve the quality of housing in Wanganui with all of the associated benefits for health, learning, social welfare, and increased activity in the local economy. The proposal was rejected because it was not relevant to the policies within the 10-year plan.

Despite the mountain of evidence showing the problems and opportunities in the housing sector, WDC has so far declined to be any part of a positive solution. To quote Tim Williams from the Committee for Sydney, “It’s not evidence based policy making but policy based evidence making.”

As yet, the leadership from local government, business and community leaders that Eaqub identifies as essential has not emerged. But I remain optimistic that some progressive minds will have the courage to engage in meaningful change for our community rather than clinging to the old “broken models.”


Peace, Estwing

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