Red X iconGreen tick iconYellow tick icon
Tuesday 4 October 2022 1:47pm

Arbitrarily limiting the proportion of public housing in new housing developments curtails the amount of public housing available without providing any health benefits for tenants, researchers at the University of Otago, Wellington, have found.

Researchers from the University's He Kainga Oranga/Housing and Health Research group say that historically, people have advocated for developments where public housing is limited to about 30 per cent of the total housing. This is based on development costs, as well as the idea that these proportions offer better social outcomes for public housing tenants.

Elinor Chisholm 2022 image
Senior Research Fellow Dr Elinor Chisholm

However, Senior Research Fellow Dr Elinor Chisholm, says their recently-published research has found public housing tenants living in areas with a higher proportion of public housing actually had better health outcomes.

The researchers used Stats NZ's Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) to find those living in public housing during the 2013 Census and then analysed their health outcomes five years later by measuring their levels of hospitalisations, mental health outpatient visits and pharmaceutical prescriptions.

“As the proportion of public housing tenants in the local population increased, their hospitalisation rate decreased, as did the chance they would use mental health outpatient services, and the number of prescriptions they received,” Dr Chisholm says.

“Planning for larger proportions of public housing in streets and neighbourhoods would not only be beneficial for public housing tenants, it would result in more public housing overall, in a time where public housing is in high demand.”

Their modelling showed the positive outcomes were reversed where there were very high densities of public housing tenants in a neighbourhood, but these were at levels much higher than would normally occur in New Zealand.

Nevil Pierse 2022 image
Associate Professor Nevil Pierse

A co-author of the research, Associate Professor Nevil Pierse, says it makes sense to increase the proportion of public housing in new developments.

“There were still more than 26,500 households on the waiting list for public housing in June 2022, despite the recent increases in the supply of public housing.

“We urgently need to provide more public housing to enable people to live lives of dignity. Being housed is much more important to health than the proportion of public housing in the community.”

Dr Chisholm says public housing tenants may gain benefits from living near others like them by forming supportive communities with others on similarly low incomes and from being in locations which are closer to social services.

The study was a large one, with the researchers analysing the health outcomes of the more than 152,000 people living in public housing in 2013. They were predominantly Māori (36 per cent) or Pasifika (42 per cent) and had a mean income of just NZ$11,473 for the 2013 year.

Publication details:

Does the proportion of public housing tenants in a community affect their wellbeing? Results from New Zealand: A retrospective cohort study using linked administrative data.

Elinor Chisholm, Oliver Robertson, Philippa Howden-Chapman and Nevil Pierse, University of Otago, Wellington.


For further information, please contact:

Dr Elinor Chisholm
Senior Research Fellow
He Kainga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme
University of Otago, Wellington

Associate Professor Nevil Pierse
Deputy Director
He Kainga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme
University of Otago, Wellington

Cheryl Norrie
Communications Adviser
University of Otago, Wellington
Mob + 64 21 249 6787

Find an Otago Expert

Use our Media Expertise Database to find an Otago researcher for media comment.

Back to top