It’s so cold they all sleep in the lounge – huddled together in the only carpeted room in the house.
The curtains are hopelessly thin – the floors in the hallway and bedrooms are vinyl. It’s no place to call home – let alone raise a family.
Amelia’s husband Soesa – a security guard – died of pneumonia and lung complications last year aged just 37. The district health board – local doctors – and the family’s school principal all wrote letters urging Housing NZ to move the family.
Their pleas were ignored. It was so cold the family would take Soesa to his father’s house at night to keep him warm. Even after he died – and after more requests to move the family were made – Housing NZ still continued to do nothing.
Housing NZ was negligent as a landlord. Chief executive Glen Sowry has apologised – and has promised to find the family a new – warmer home – but only after media attention this week forced the agency to get its act together.
If anyone needed proof of how bad this house is – it is to undergo renovations – including new drapes and carpet and other significant maintenance – before the next family moves in.
Housing NZ is embarrassed. They should be.
The problem is no-one sent the memo to Housing Minister Dr Nick Smith. His reaction to another death in a state house was colder than the house itself. Smith has demonstrated what a callous man he is by claiming: ‘People dying in winter of pneumonia and other illnesses is not new’.
Poor form indeed from a mean indifferent Cabinet minister. It reminds me of the nasty penny-pinching 1990s – when Jim Bolger linked the health system with dying.
Last week I wrote about another death in a cold state house – the case of toddler Emma-Lita Bourne. A coroner linked the living conditions in her home to her death from pneumonia-like symptoms.
That case certainly sparked a lot of debate about personal responsibility – and whether it’s a family’s job to provide a safe warm home versus how much responsibility Housing NZ should take as landlords.
Well the Tovo family met their side of the bargain. The house I visited was neat and tidy. I could see small traces of mould that the family had regularly wiped away.
Soesa Tovo worked fulltime. He was not on a benefit. The children went to school.
The reality is landlords have responsibilities too – including Housing NZ – and we simply have too many leaky cold and damp houses. It’s a national shame.