ACT’s poor housing plus winter adds up to a chilling statistic

Ian Bushnell 12 August 2019 28

Better Renting wants the ACT Government to legislate minimum health and safety standards for rental properties. File photo.

More than 42 people die every year in the ACT from living in a cold house, according to a new report from renter lobby group Better Renting.

The report, Unsafe as Houses: Cold-housing deaths in the ACT, compares average monthly deaths in cold months to average deaths in warmer months, and finds that around 140 more people die in the May to September period compared to other times of year.

It estimates that at least 42 of these deaths are due to cold indoor temperatures from low-quality housing.

The report identifies the most at-risk group as being low-income renters aged 65 years and over due to a combination of energy inefficient housing, less ability to pay for heating, and higher physical vulnerability.

Better Renting Executive Director Joel Dignam says that poor housing in Australia contributes to preventable deaths from indoor cold.

“It is appalling that people are dying in the ACT because their housing doesn’t give them shelter. Every year people are dying because people are living in ‘glorified tents’ that don’t protect them from the winter cold.

“These are lives that could be saved if housing in the ACT were better insulated and easier to keep warm.”

Better Renting has been campaigning for the Government to legislate minimum health and safety standards for rental properties.

It cites the example of Elaine, aged 83, who has rented for many years and developed pneumonia twice while renting a very cold apartment in her mid-70s.

“My doctor asked me about the heating arrangements in our apartment and suggested that my condition could be attributed to our cold living conditions,” she said.

“My husband and I had struggled to pay our previous electricity bill, which was over $600 for one quarter and had consequently cut down on our use of heating.

“We no longer scrimp on heating our house because I value my health more. But it’s clear that not much has changed to improve conditions for renters since we began renting in the 1960s.”

Professor Adrian Barnett, from the Queensland University of Technology, although not involved in the development of the report, backs Mr Dignam’s concerns.

“Every winter, most Australia cities experience a spike in deaths and hospitals have their busiest times. This is not simply because of the flu, but is also caused by cardiovascular problems such as strokes and myocardial infarctions, which are caused by temperatures being too low inside our homes,” he said.

Canberrans are using bubble wrap on windows as a new form of insulation. Photo: George Tsotsos.

Canberrans have resorted to using bubble wrap on windows as a form of insulation. Photo: George Tsotsos.

“Too many Australians live in houses that cannot cope with even mild cold weather, meaning the indoor temperature is dangerously low. This happens every winter and there have been few state or national policies
to tackle this issue.

“These deaths and hospitalisations are completely avoidable, because countries like Sweden and Canada with far harsher winters, have far fewer winter deaths than Australia.”

Mr Dignam said people renting in cold homes could not make the improvements that would keep them healthy and called on the Government to require property investors to make sure their properties were fit to live in during

“Recently, the UK and New Zealand have introduced energy efficiency standards for rental properties,” he said. “Queensland and Victoria have also legislated on this issue.

“While the ACT Government sits on its hands, people are dying.”

Better Renting says it used data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), and the approaches and findings of international researchers, to estimate the number of deaths that could be avoided by improving the quality of homes in the ACT.

It says research from Europe, the UK, and Ireland suggests that 30 to 50 per cent of Excess Winter Mortality is related to housing.


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28 Responses to ACT’s poor housing plus winter adds up to a chilling statistic
Ol L Ol L 4:13 pm 20 Feb 21

Funny stuff if it didn’t lead to rent increases

Pandy Pandy 5:03 pm 15 Aug 19

If you force the private rental stock to improve their insulstion, you will find the renters on the street.

Government should concentrate on getting their own houses in order first.

Darron Marks Darron Marks 5:22 am 14 Aug 19

On the one hand the greens are demanding better rights for renters and standards of insulation. But on the other they will increase the cost of electricity that these people will have to pay to buy certificates to offset the ACT's carbon emissions.

Mr Rattenbury thinks the costs are "negligible" but to a family like this it is the difference between having the heater on or not !

If most of our electricity is renewable we should not need to increase these costs any further for these people just to give the greens their 100% renewable target figure. Leave it at 70% or 80%

    Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 3:29 pm 15 Aug 19

    Darron Marks Greens tend to be full of wonderful ideas for a better world that they don’t have to pay for and will never be responsible in government.

    A sweet deal. Make all the promises and never have to deliver, while criticising your political opponents.

    Darron Marks Darron Marks 4:06 pm 15 Aug 19

    I appreciate they have ideals many of us might support in principle. But they really need to measure up economically that we are not paying a premium just so they can reach a fictional target.

    They obviously wish to use this 100% renewable target to use as marketing material to shame other states into adopting similar targets.

    My concern is that the target isn't a true reflection on reality and those that can least afford this will pay more for the privilege of a target that looks good on paper.

Suzanne Tunks Suzanne Tunks 12:04 am 14 Aug 19

That is just so sad 🙁

Vanessa Palmer Vanessa Palmer 9:45 pm 13 Aug 19

Housing should be better designed so they are energy efficient and solar passive. Older homes are badly designed but there is no excuse for new homes not to be energy efficient

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:23 pm 13 Aug 19

    I belonged to a group in the late 70s/early 80s and we were pushing for energy efficient housing then. We were taken no notice of. Since then all of Gungahlin has been built, much of Belconnen and Tuggeranong. Just think how many houses that is. It's criminal.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:37 pm 13 Aug 19

    At least houses over a certain budget, because it does cost more to build an energy efficient house. Although once built, energy costs are low. I live in an energy efficient house (no heater on as I write this and it's almost midnight) and the last bill showed the cost of my electricity use as $85.32. (No gas connected)

Teresa BRx Teresa BRx 8:34 pm 13 Aug 19

I bet none of any new public housing being built is being built to an appropriate efficiency standard. It must start with governments mandating legislation with appropriate minimum building efficiency standards.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:20 pm 13 Aug 19

    So you don't believe it must pass the same minimum standards that private house have to do. I don't agree with you and believe they do have to pass the same standards. Whether this minimal standard for housing is good enough though can be debated.

    Teresa BRx Teresa BRx 7:00 pm 14 Aug 19

    I don’t think you’ve understood what I’ve said. The current minimum efficiency standards for buildings, particularly residential dwellings, are not good enough and need to be improved. Particularly in Canberra where the temperature span is very wide. However, the government will build its current homes to the bare minimum (they’d try for less if they could get away with it) and people will continue to suffer.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 5:40 pm 16 Aug 19

    Teresa BRx I bet you would loose that bet. My mum lives in a purpose built government housing complex built in 2010 and it has double glazing, good insulation, solar hot water etc. In winter she only ever needs to use the heater on the crappiest overcast days and in the evenings.

    Nell Feneck Nell Feneck 6:31 am 17 Aug 19

    Teresa BRx incorrect - the gov buys houses privately

    Teresa BRx Teresa BRx 8:22 am 17 Aug 19

    Ashley Wright - then I hope that is the rule and not the exception.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 5:36 pm 18 Aug 19

    Nell Feneck true for freestanding houses that’s for sure. They still do build complexes but as I mentioned above the one my mum lives in is pretty efficient with double glazing and all.

Jill Lee Bee Jill Lee Bee 8:17 pm 13 Aug 19

Yes and dont expect sympathy from the wretches at actew agl

Christine-Don McLeod Christine-Don McLeod 7:52 pm 13 Aug 19

I agree with comments made by Robyne Mitchell ... from my experience ..

Dan Fulton Dan Fulton 7:20 pm 13 Aug 19

Jordan lucky no more Farrer ❄🤧❄

    Jordan Fulton Jordan Fulton 7:50 pm 13 Aug 19

    Dan Fulton HAHA it’s been a toasty winter

Trish Roberts Trish Roberts 7:04 pm 13 Aug 19

Many homes are not insulated and of course there are health implications. My rented home is fortunately quite old by Canberra standards, double brick. I heat the living room/dining room. Never used to heat the bedroom; instead put 6 blankets and 2 doonas on the bed. But this year I was ill; chest infection, severe asthma, and decided to heat the bedroom for a couple of hours before I go to bed. That seems to help.

    Trish Roberts Trish Roberts 7:05 pm 13 Aug 19

    Re cooling, that’s a problem. I don’t open the windows wide, because I live in a dangerous area. I’d rather open the windows in the day.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:32 pm 13 Aug 19

    Trish Roberts Unfortunately on very hot days opening the windows will make your house even hotter and then if you don't have the windows open at night the heat is trapped inside. If it's say 32C inside and you open the windows because you are hot, letting in say 38C air, that won't cool your house; just make it even hotter. Better to use an electric fan to move the air. Open your doors and windows in the evening (naturally after the outside temperature has dropped to or below the inside temperature) while you are awake; then if security is a problem close them when you go to bed. At least your house will get some cooling. Get security screens on the doors; then you can lock them and leave them open to cool the air. I have security screens on some windows and I can leave them open at night to get through ventilation.

    Trish Roberts Trish Roberts 7:54 am 14 Aug 19

    Julie Macklin Hi, Julie, I know we are advised to have windows open at night. But I live in public housing. I personally can’t change things like get security screens. I live in inner city and some of my neighbours not the best. I can wind my windows open a small amount and lock them there. I do worry that someone of bad intent could force the window open further if I wind it to its furthest extent. I might not hear the noise of someone breaking in above the sound of my CPAP (sleep apnoea equipment). I sleep better if I only have the windows locked open a short distance. If it’s really hot I use fans.

Robyne Mitchell Robyne Mitchell 6:26 pm 13 Aug 19

Most of the poor housing, lack of insulation and maintenance are the public housing in ACT even though the tenants complain it seems to fall on deaf ears. If the work is done it is usually by untrained workmen who sometimes make things worse. Tenants are at their wits end trying to get work done quickly and properly.

    Nell Feneck Nell Feneck 6:30 am 17 Aug 19

    Robyne Mitchell work is NOT done by untrained workmen at all

    Robyne Mitchell Robyne Mitchell 9:50 am 17 Aug 19

    Nell Feneck The work that I saw must have been as it was not a tradesman who dun it!

Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 4:33 pm 13 Aug 19

The Greens are advocating for better rights for renters, including improving heating and cooling of houses

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