During the first episode of the new season of Prime's documentary series, Making New Zealand, a historian surveying the post-earthquake rebuild of Christchurch says, "We're very good at forgetting in New Zealand."

He is referring specifically to the fact we have consistently created buildings poorly suited to one of the most earthquake-prone countries on earth, but as the episode also demonstrates, it is an equally valid reference to the appalling way we have consistently forgotten to build enough decent places in which to live.

The narrator tells us that people came here from Britain to start a better life and it was a blow for them to discover soon after that the slumlike conditions they thought they had left behind were being replicated here. Slowly, the cities improved - the building of sewers in Christchurch was shown by way of example - but by the mid-1930s, we learn, much of the existing housing was rundown. We are shown sad pictures of children standing outside homes of great squalor and we hear that a chronic housing shortage resulted from a building slowdown that began in World War I and deepened during the Depression. Grainy old news footage shows bleak residential streets and carries the narration: "A nation's prosperity isn't measured in exports and show and false fronts; it's in the way people live and in how much sun they get, where kids grow up and how the sanitation works."

In the middle of last year, the Herald's Kirsty Johnston reported that 20 children a year are dying because of cold, overcrowded homes.


That story prompted then-leader-of-the-opposition Jacinda Ardern to say: "This is what this election should be about. This is what we should be debating - do we have a tolerance for kids dying because our houses are in such a bad state? Do we tolerate this?"

Two days after the Making New Zealand episode aired, a Government-commissioned report into the state of housing in 2018 was released and it was bleak.

Among its findings: 6000 children each year are admitted to hospital with diseases linked to poor quality housing. One of the report's authors, Shamubeel Eaqub said the Government should be "borrowing shitloads of money" to pay for new housing and infrastructure. He criticised the target of building 100,000 affordable new homes over 10 years.

The target should be 500,000, he said.

It's shocking enough to hear how bad things have become, but it's worse when we see that we've been here before. When the creators of Making New Zealand were putting together their opening episode, it probably wasn't their intention to send us away depressed, but it was hard to walk away from the show and the news that followed it without thinking that we have failed to remember the mistakes of our past, and have been condemned to repeat them.