Anyone can live in a boarding house, can’t they? ┬áThe advantages and disadvantages of boarding house residence

Clare Aspinall – Masters 2013

Research indicates that housing and tenure type influence well-being. Traditionally, boarding houses are an important type of accommodation, but there is a paucity of knowledge about these dwellings in New Zealand. International studies and a small number of New Zealand studies have shown that boarders staying in the poorest condition boarding houses experience high levels of poverty, poor health and disability and are vulnerable to eviction. Due to inadequate tenancy protection and a lack of privacy, boarders can be considered to be essentially homeless. Some boarders cycle between boarding houses, other forms of temporary accommodation, and sleeping rough.
This qualitative thesis explores the advantages and disadvantages of boarding houses in Wellington, New Zealand. Constructivist grounded theory and semi-structured interviews with nine participants, consisting of two boarders, three health workers, and four landlords and managers are used to understand the drivers for boarding house use, gain insight into the realities of living in these dwellings, and to seek ways to improve boarding house conditions for those with poor health and disabilities.

The analysis indicates a lack of affordable housing, debt, and housing discrimination are key drivers of boarding house use. Others drivers include the lack of connection between health and housing policy and recognition of housing needs when people on low incomes are discharged or released from institutional care.

Results also show that the boarding house market is segmented and that all boarding houses are not equal. The experience of living in a boarding house varies depending on whether the house is in the upper, middle or lower part of an evident hierarchy of boarding houses. Those in the lower part of the hierarchy have the worst physical standards, least safe social environments, and poorest management practices.

Current building legislation is poorly enforced and the complaint-based mechanism to protect boarders from these issues fails due to weak tenancy protection. Weak tenancy protection also denies health workers the ability to advocate for improved housing conditions for people using the service. The study found more can be done to improve the physical standards of dwellings, increase the choice of affordable, quality housing and the provisions of health and social support to vulnerable boarders and to prevent the eviction of boarders due to unmet health needs and disability.

More proactive enforcement of building regulations and the provision of stronger tenancy protection to protect boarders from eviction is required. Landlords and managers that house vulnerable boarders also need better support from health and social services to be able to provide sustainable housing. Boarding houses are not a suitable form of accommodation for some and there is a need to increase the provision of affordable, quality housing for the most vulnerable, as stated in the aims of the New Zealand Disability Strategy (2001).

Read Clare’s thesis here