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Media Release

Healthy homes for all Kiwis at heart of major new research programme

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Condensation on house window

The team whose highly influential research provided the evidence base for such major changes to New Zealand’s housing policy as the EECA Warmer Homes insulation scheme and new national Healthy Housing Standards for rental properties has received a $5 million Health Research Council (HRC) Programme grant to work on interventions that will help all New Zealanders live in warm, dry, mould-free and safe homes.

Associate Professor Nevil Pierse

From the University of Otago, Wellington, Associate Professor Nevil Pierse (pictured) and Distinguished Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman will work with other members of the He Kāinga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme team – a multidisciplinary group including researchers from the universities of Otago, Victoria and Massey, BRANZ and Motu Economic and Public Policy Research – to test a suite of new interventions designed to increase equitable health outcomes and enhance New Zealanders’ wellbeing. They will also evaluate and scale up existing housing interventions that are proven to be effective.

Programme co-leader Associate Professor Pierse says that despite the significant progress made in recent years to improve the quality of New Zealand’s homes through subsidised insulation schemes and energy-efficient heating, up to 900,000 New Zealand homes remain unhealthy, with low-income renters most at risk.

“New Zealand’s poor housing quality, particularly private rental housing, has created a large health burden, with 28,000 children and 54,000 adults hospitalised each year for potentially avoidable hospitalisations linked to old, cold, damp and mouldy houses. Most of these affected children come from low-income households, with Māori and Pasifika children three and four times over-represented,” says Associate Professor Pierse.

As part of the five-year Programme, the He Kāinga Oranga research team will work closely with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to measure the impact that new mandatory Healthy Homes Standards for rental properties (due to be in place from July 2021), are having on housing quality, including indoor temperatures, air quality, physical and mental health, and mortality. The standards cover improvements to heating, insulation and ventilation, and addressing issues with moisture ingress and drainage.

He Kāinga Oranga took a leading role in developing the World Health Organization (WHO) International Guidelines on Housing and Health, and they will also analyse why some of the interventions included in these guidelines were left out of New Zealand’s Healthy Homes Standards, such as interventions for eradicating mould, reducing injuries in the home, and mitigating increased temperatures due to climate change.

“Although we’ve seen positive changes to policy at the Tenancy Tribunal, local council and national level and in global guidelines, they’ve all picked up different parts of the evidence base. Some parts, particularly the evidence for preventing injuries in homes, haven’t had the emphasis that they deserve. Together with our government, community and Māori partners throughout New Zealand, we will work to drive the translation and implementation of that research forward,” says Associate Professor Pierse.

HRC chief executive Professor Sunny Collings says the Health Research Council will now have funded He Kāinga Oranga’s housing and health research for 25 years, enabling the team to consistently build on the evidence base for healthy housing interventions and translate this into policy across a range of government departments.

“Through their research, He Kāinga Oranga has completely changed the conversation around housing and health. People now understand that the condition of their house can significantly impact on their health. The EECA schemes that have run alongside this research have insulated 300,000 New Zealand homes to date, which amounts to a cost savings of about $4 billion to the health sector and prevented some 80,000 hospitalisations,” says Professor Collings.

“There’s been a huge shift in the knowledge, evidence and policy base as a result of this research. It’s been recognised by the International Council of Science and the WHO, and it’s changed housing policy not only in New Zealand, but in Australia, Scotland, the UK and Canada.”

Professor Collings says this new Programme will build on the great work done previously to deliver tangible health benefits and broader social, cultural and wellbeing benefits at a wider population level.

The Health Research Council’s Programme grants are awarded for research that will contribute to significantly improving health outcomes for New Zealanders.

Associate Professor Nevil Pierse and Distinguished Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman’s grant is one of four Programme grants announced today for a combined total of $19.88 million. The HRC has also announced funding for 39 Projects ($47.73 million) and 4 Pacific Projects ($3.97 million).

See below for the full list of 2020 Programme recipients. To read lay summaries about any of these research Programmes, go to and filter by proposal type ‘Programmes’ and year ‘2020’.

2020 HRC Programme grants

Professor Michael Baker, University of Otago, Wellington
SYMBIOTIC: Integrated prevention of infectious diseases and long-term conditions
60 months, $4,951,982

Professor Paul Donaldson, The University of Auckland
Regulation of lens water transport: A strategy to treat presbyopia and cataract
60 months, $4,936,997

Professor Valery Feigin, Auckland University of Technology
Measuring and reducing stroke burden in New Zealand
60 months, $4,996,868

Associate Professor Nevil Pierse, University of Otago, Wellington
Research to maximise the health and wellbeing gains from housing
60 months, $4,996,214