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Source: Human Rights Commission

Today, Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero presented an oral submission to the Environment Committee on the Urban Development Bill on four matters:

  • inclusion of the right to housing in the Bill.
  • ensuring the Bill fulfills the Crown Treaty obligations and obligations under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • inclusivity, accessibility and the need to ensure the protection of the rights of disabled people under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  • the importance of co-design, meaningful participation and engagement.

Full text of the oral submission:

Tēnā koutou katoa – Ko Paula Tesoriero, Toku ingoa. I am the Disability Rights Commissioner.  

Thank you for inviting me to present today. I want to speak to you about the four matters raised in my submission.  

The first regards the inclusion of the right to housing in the Bill.  

The second regards ensuring the Bill fulfills the Crown Treaty obligations and obligations under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  

The third relates to inclusivity, accessibility and the need to ensure the protection of the rights of disabled people under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  

The fourth relates to the importance of co-design, meaningful participation and engagement. 

Right to Housing 

Firstly, I wish to start by pointing out that last year Canada recognised the right to adequate housing as a fundamental human right in legislation, in passing the National Housing Strategy Act. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights applauded Canada, stating it was an example for the rest of the world to follow. 

The right to housing is a fundamental human right that has been recognised in international treaties and conventions that New Zealand has ratified. This means New Zealand has agreed to ensure that the right to adequate housing is progressively realised in New Zealand and that it will do so in a non-discriminatory way.  

New Zealand should follow Canada’s lead. I recommend that the Committee include specific recognition that the right to housing is a fundamental human right and specific commitment to the progressive realisation of the right to adequate housing. 

Treaty of Waitangi and indigenous rights 

Secondly, I wish to turn to speak to the Bill’s adherence to the Treaty of Waitangi and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (which I will refer to as the United Nations Declaration). 

The Bill provides functions and powers to Kāinga Ora relating to Māori land and former Māori land. Land is intrinsically important to Māori and the right of Maori to the lands and resources which they traditionally owned, ocupied or used is protected under both the Treaty of Waitangi and the United Nations Declaration. 

I welcome the inclusion of a specific Treaty of Waitangi clause in the Bill. However the language which requires those performing functions and exercising powers to “take into account” the principles of the Treaty must be strengthened to be consistent with the Treaty of Waitangi and obligations under the United Nations Declaration. 

The Treaty requirement to act towards each other in good faith –  akin to partnership –  has long been emphasised, including by the Legislative Design and Advisory Committee in the Legislation Guidelines and by Cabinet in the Treaty of Waitangi Guidance. 

The New Zealand Government has also committed to harmonise legislation and policies with the human rights protected under the Declaration. The Declaration protects the right of Māori to be fully informed and appropriately consulted with in any decision relating to their ancestral right to land. 

Therefore in order for the protection of indigenous rights under the Treaty of Waitangi and the Declaration, I recommend that the Committee strengthen the language in section 4 to show appropriate respect for the spirit and principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and reflect partnership. 

I recommend that the Committee ensure that the Bill upholds the rights of Māori to free, prior and informed consent in relation to any traditional lands or resources. 

I also recommend that the Committee include explicit reference to the Declaration and that the Bill’s contents are consistent with the Declaration. 

The Declaration also sets out rights of indigenous elders and disabled people which brings me to my third speaking point about disabled people and housing and urban environments. 

Housing and Disabled people 

I want to start with a story about a disabled woman who uses a wheelchair. She was looking for an accessible rental property for herself and her two children in Auckland. She sought assistance from MSD for five years and had 32 rental applications declined before being accepted into a suitable home. This caused he so much stress she almost lost her job.1 Unfortunately, this story is all too common for our disabled community. 

Almost a quarter of New Zealanders identify as having a disability. However less than two per cent of homes are estimated to be accessible. 

Many barriers currently exist in accessing housing for disabled people including, wait times for modifications to homes, lack of suitable accessible housing, and affordability – this is exacerbated by the fact disabled people are among the most marginalised populations in terms of income levels.   

Disabled people are also more likely to live in housing which is of substandard condition or does not meet their needs: 

  • disabled children were more likely than non-disabled children to live in a home that was too small for their needs; 
  • 25 percent of disabled people reported having difficulty keeping their home warm, compared with 18 percent of non-disabled people; 
  • 18 percent of disabled people said their home was damp, compared with 13 percent of non-disabled people; and 
  • 17 percent of people with a physical impairment had a need for modifications to their home to improve accessibility.  

Current urban environments in New Zealand such as streetscape designs, housing, public transport, and infrastructure, do not adequately meet the needs of disabled people.  A recent petition from Lizi Guest to Parliament regarding keeping footpaths for feet and mobility devices so that pedestrians and mobility device users feel safe is an example of accessibility.2  

Disabled people often feel excluded through lack of access, and as a result can become disconnected from the communities of which they might be a part.   

The social model of disability recognises that it is not the impairment an individual has which causes disability, rather it is the environment around us including the infrastructure, policy and services, that creates barriers, thereby disabling people.    

It is critical that urban development is undertaken with accessibility in mind and reduces barriers disabled people face so that inequities are reduced. 

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities sets out the obligations of the Government to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities to adequate and accessible housing, without discrimination. 

It requires the elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility including in relation to buildings, housing, roads, transportation and other indoor and outdoor facilities.   

It sets out the right of persons with disabilities to access to culture, leisure and recreation. It also provides an obligation on states to promote universal design. 

Achieving a fully accessible New Zealand in urban development will enable achievement of Outcome 5 on Accessibility, in the New Zealand Disability Strategy 2016-2026.  

It will also help in achieving Goal 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals – to ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanisation and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable settlement planning and management. 

While there is reference in the Bill for urban development to be inclusive, it is not clear what this means or what the international standards require.  

Therefore I recommend that the Committee consider defining inclusiveness in the interpretive clause of the Bill and include a separate section on inclusive development which ensures that all urban developments are in conformity with international standards and consistent with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, particularly in relation to accessibility. 

Co-design, meaningful participation and engagement 

Finally I wish to speak about the participatory aspects in the Bill. 

Rights-based approaches commit to meaningful participation of affected persons at every stage of the process; from design and implementation to monitoring and reporting.  

Co-design with informed participants helps to ensure prioritisation of issues and solutions which are the most important to affected people.  

The Bill appears to lack any specific reference to participatory mechanisms for communities, particularly marginalised communities, other than specific participation arrangements for Māori and “key stakeholders”. The Bill also appears to lack provision for affected persons to be supported in their participation with Kāinga Ora. 

It is important that diverse communities including those who are homeless or in insecure housing, those with disabilities, young people and the Rainbow Community, are not further marginalised by being unable to meaningfully engage with Kāinga Ora. Co-design is a mechanism that can enable communities to meaningfully engage.   

I recommend that the Committee consider amending the Bill to include participatory mechanisms, including co-design, that enable diverse, including marginalised communities and affected persons to meaningfully engage in urban development. 


In summary, I welcome this Bill as an encouraging step towards the progressive realisation of the fundamental human right to housing. However, I urge the Committee to ensure that the Bill adequately protects international human rights. 

Thank you for this opportunity to address you on these matters. I am happy to take questions.