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He Kāinga Oranga: reflections on 25 years of measuring the improved health, wellbeing and sustainability of healthier housing

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Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 54(3), 290-315

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This article reviews the He Kāinga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme's contributions over 25 years, focusing on the intersection of housing quality and public health in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The research underscores the critical role of housing as a determinant of health, particularly in high-income countries where individuals spend significant time indoors. . Working in partnership particularly with Māori and Pasifika communities through a series of randomised control trials, the team has evidenced the health benefits of interventions such as retrofitted insulation, heating, and the remediation of home hazards. These findings have informed and underpinned key government policies, including the Warm Up NZ: Heat Smart programme and the Healthy Homes Standards. The paper highlights the programme’s partnership with Māori and Pasifika communities, adopting a culturally sensitive approach that integrates mātauranga Māori and Pasifika perspectives with Western scientific methods. This collaborative research has not only yielded significant policy impacts domestically but also contributed to international guidelines, notably the WHO Housing and Health Guidelines. One of the hallmark achievements of this work has been the development and implementation of housing interventions that directly respond to the unique health vulnerabilities and cultural preferences of Māori populations. These include projects focused on improving the thermal comfort and air quality in homes through retrofitting initiatives and the design of housing solutions that support multigenerational living and community connectivity, reflecting traditional Māori values. Moreover, the programme’s efforts to address the broader determinants of health — such as income inequality, access to quality housing, and environmental sustainability — through a Māori lens, underscore the interconnectedness of health, wellbeing, and housing. The policy impacts of this work, notably contributions to the development of the Healthy Homes Standards and advocacy for higher building and maintenance standards, demonstrate a significant shift towards more equitable housing policies that recognise and prioritise the needs of Māori communities.

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