Families forced to live in cold, damp homes because of a lack of affordable housing are suffering from more than just health problems, the Families Commission says.
In a submission to the Productivity Commission's inquiry into housing affordability, the commission noted that there were wider implications for families living in poor conditions than just the impact on the family's health.
The commission's Acting Chief Executive, Angela Tidmarsh, said the stress of living inadequate conditions could stop families from benefiting from programmes designed to support them in other ways.
"Numerous studies have concluded that if families are stressed because they have basic unmet needs, they will be focused on meeting those needs and have little energy left for involvement in other programmes,'' Dr Tidmarsh said.
"When families are vulnerable and have multiple stresses, participation in support programmes is low, and drop-out rates are high.''
While there were a number of local council and Government initiatives, such as subsidised home insulation and upgrading of state houses, to help families access affordable housing of reasonable quality, the commission said new avenues were needed.
It suggested a rating and accreditation system for rental housing requiring that families receiving the accommodation supplement only be allowed to rent accredited houses.
Green MP Gareth Hughes has launched a private member's bill aimed at improving substandard rental properties, and said today that the commission's submission was in line with his own concerns about housing affordability.
"There's a whole generation of people effectively locked out of home ownership, it's just a distant dream for many of them,'' he said.
"There are a number of good landlords out there, but there are a number who are absolutely amateurish, doing it just to reap the capital gains in the future and not providing a good rental service for their tenants.''
Mr Hughes' Warm Healthy Rentals Amendment Bill would set a minimum standard for landlords to meet, and would introduce penalties for those that did not fulfil the requirements.
"I've left it entirely absent about what the standard should be to give us the flexibility to decide what standards should be enforced,'' he said.
"Rental legislation in New Zealand is absolutely out of date ... the actual minimum standards a house needs are sort of laughable in the modern age - it's got to have an oven, it's got have windows that close - that's pretty much it.''