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The justification for Labour’s Housing Scheme: The discourse of the “slum’.

Author Category Source

Brookes, B. (Ed.). At Home in New Zealand: History, Houses, People. Bridget Williams Books, , 107-124

Published Year

In this chapter, Isaac and Olsen explore the historical backdrop to the First Labour Government’s housing programme with a particular focus on housing quality in general and the concept of sub-standard housing and ‘slums’ more specifically.

As the authors explain, in the 19th century, New Zealand colonists believed abundant opportunities would prevent poverty, overlooking the need for state intervention in housing. It also notes that Māori dwellings were criticised by English commentators for poor conditions, but this did not translate into immediate state action. By the late 19th century, perceptions shifted due to improved housing standards abroad and the emergence of a permanent wage-earning class, making housing a political issue. The early 20th century, as the chapter continues, saw increased concern over housing due to its link with disease transmission, leading to the establishment of the Department of Health and small-scale slum demolitions. The Liberals, influenced by these concerns and declining fertility rates, enacted the Advances to Workers Act and built small state-housing estates, although these were often costly and inconveniently located. As Isaac and Olsen explain, by 1916, the majority of New Zealanders lived in single-unit dwellings, with many owning their homes. Despite this, challenges remained in addressing urban squalor, and the influenza pandemic and the Great Depression later underscored the inadequacy of housing for many, particularly Māori as the chapter makes brief mention of. This led to a greater government role in housing, culminating in Labour’s housing policies in the late 1930s, which focused on improving living standards and promoting the nuclear family. This chapter provides both an historical overview of how the perceptions of housing standards have changed as well as information on those changing standards though it provides very little insight into the particular Māori context.

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