Whanganui has been identified as a priority for more safe and affordable housing.
A recent Human Rights Commission report, as part of Te Kāhui Tika Tangata, the Human Rights Commission's Housing Inquiry found cold, crowded homes continue to blight many New Zealand communities, including Whanganui.
Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt said rental housing was still well below the standard of owner-occupied housing.
"The indicator for dampness and mould in rental housing shows a small improvement, but the other two indicators - household crowding, and cold - show no improvement," he said.
There are also considerable differences in homeownership rates between ethnic groups, with Māori and Pacific peoples particularly less likely to live in owner-occupied housing.
Jigsaw Whanganui executive officer Tim Metcalfe said the report findings were verified by the observations of his team.
"A number of our families have had to move because properties have been sold or the rents have become unaffordable," Metcalfe said.
"That leads to people living in overcrowded or substandard housing and it also means that some are unable to leave domestic violence situations."
The Commission has focused on three human rights indicators - rates of damp and mould, household crowding, and cold - to show habitability trends.
The commission is measuring progress across seven "decency" principles outlined by the United Nations.
These seven principles are that a home should be affordable, habitable, accessible, secure in terms of tenure, located near schools, employment and healthcare,
provide access to key services and be culturally adequate.
Hunt expressed concern that recent cost of living increases were likely to mean more people, particularly renters, tangata whenua and Pacific peoples would feel the cold this winter, as people struggled to cover the cost of heating their homes.
Meanwhile, Metcalfe said Whanganui Ministry of Social Development staff do their best to help people into emergency accommodation as quickly as they could but there was often a waiting list.
"It used to be a fairly quick process but now people can sometimes be waiting for weeks."
Metcalfe said a lot of working families were struggling with rent affordability and now needed more support from Jigsaw and other agencies than they did two years ago.
"There are also flow-on effects from families having to move often," Metcalfe said.
"When families have to move, children have to change schools and that leads to loss of community connections as well as the disruption to their education."
The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights identifies the right to adequate housing as a fundamental and inalienable human right.
There were 730 state-owned houses in Whanganui in 2012 when the previous government made the decision to sell some properties to the private sector and use the proceeds to provide more public housing in larger cities as Whanganui's population was projected to decrease.
There are now 580 houses despite 41 new builds since 2018. There are currently more than 350 families on the waiting list for public housing in Whanganui.
The eligibility criteria were changed in July 2011 and only those in "severe or significant housing need" as determined by Housing NZ were qualified to rent public housing.
The Kāinga Ora–Homes and Communities Act 2019 established a new crown entity to promote "a housing and urban development system that contributes to the current or future well-being of New Zealanders".
Whanganui is recognised as a priority area, experiencing its strongest population growth since 1996, with a growing number of low-income households struggling to secure accommodation.
The Government recognises that median sale prices have doubled in the district alongside median rent increases. There is also recognition that the situation is likely to worsen unless new housing stock is provided.
Kāinga Ora's regional director Graeme Broderick said the Government's Public Housing Plan expects to build 210 to 320 public houses and up to 80 transitional homes in the central region by 2024. This region includes Whanganui, Palmerston North, Rangitīkei, Manawatū, Horowhenua and Tararua areas.
"There are a further 196 homes in the planning, feasibility, and construction phase," Broderick said.
"We additionally have two homes under construction in Marton, two in the feasibility stage in Taihape, and we are working across the councils and with local iwi to see what is possible across the rest of the central region."
Broderick said Kāinga Ora was also working with iwi and the council to identify opportunities to increase the housing supply in the Ruapehu area. In the Taranaki region, 80 to 120 public houses and up to 40 transitional homes are expected to be built by 2024.
"We continue with urgency to explore a range of ways to provide more warm, dry and safe homes for whānau and tamariki living in the central region.
"We're delivering new homes in a range of ways to increase supply quickly, including redeveloping our existing land holdings to replace older homes with either traditionally built homes, or offsite manufactured homes (OSM), as well as leasing and purchasing land and developments."
Broderick said OSM was a construction method increasingly used to boost public housing.
"It's not new to us - around 15 per cent of our public homes currently under construction or in design utilise OSM techniques, and we are committed to scaling that up by around 20 per cent year on year.
"We know that traditional build methods are operating close to, or at, full capacity. The adaptability of OSM means this build method tackles some of the major challenges facing the residential construction sector, such as speed and constraints on trade and materials."
The Human Rights Commission's Housing inquiry will continue to measure progress and the Commissioner said the work was vital for the country.
"Housing habitability affects the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders, contributing to a burden of disease for people living in poor quality housing," Hunt said.