There has been a lot of talk from the Government around solutions to housing affordability and housing security over the past decade. While there have been some effective solutions, many of these have been forged ahead or founded by whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori organisations. Whai Kāinga Whai Oranga is a four-year, $730 million commitment to speed up the delivery of Māori-led housing. It funds both small-scale Māori housing projects and larger developments, from repairing existing homes to building new ones. Whai Kāinga Whai Oranga is jointly administered with Te Puni Kōkiri. This most recent investment in Māori housing as a major achievement is justified, although there are also those who say this is a drop in the ocean when you think about the scale of the problem. Meantime, as the talking continues, the situation on the ground gets worse for thousands of whānau.
I pondered this at the end of the second day of the National Māori Housing Conference, hosted by Ngāti Whakaue in Rotorua this week. I listened yesterday as Associate Minister of Housing, Hon. Marama Davidson, assured the audience that the Government was committed to empowering Māori to identify and develop their own housing solutions. I heard the same from Hon. Willie Jackson. Minister of Māori Development, and again from Minister of Housing. Hon. Megan Woods, who said the Government would work in “genuine partnership” with Māori.
Whether the Government is serious about taking a whānau-centred approach to housing affordability or whether it’s election year “talk” will be seen in next month’s Budget. What some of the ministers effectively told the audience yesterday, was what we already know: the solutions are with Māori. The issue is that we continue to face unnecessary obstacles, not just in terms of provision of adequate resourcing, but more importantly, in terms of trust.
Whānau, hapū and iwi are well placed to deliver to our whānau, and despite mounting evidence supporting the success of Whānau Ora, trust is still lacking and systemic barriers remain high.
As economist Shamubeel Eaqub pointed out in a panel discussion at the conference yesterday, we have a financial system that is very cheap for the rich, but expensive for the poor, and rigid in the face of lending against Māori land.
“It is entirely within our control [to solve the housing crisis], we are a rich nation and we have some great examples of things that have worked … we don’t need to make it too complicated, but we just need leadership and we need to care.”
Other ongoing housing challenges highlighted during the conference included the cost of land and building, which is so high that even building at cost is out of reach for many whānau. The ever-revolving Crown Māori Housing funding policies were also highlighted and while we have homeownership and low-income housing products, options for low wage, medium income whānau remains difficult.
Do we sacrifice more whenua for lower construction cost of single level whare or do we reimagine a different notion of papakāinga like that presented by Matangireia Yates-Francis, which saw papakāinga reimagined vertically. His reimagining saw a huge focus on regenerating the taiao, room for a māra, filtration water systems that allowed for water catchment from the skies through to wastewater management.
Tania Powhare (Ngāi Tūhoe), General Manager at the Auckland Council, talked about the need for radical social and economic transformation. Their work is premised on the late Professor Manuka Henare’s work on the economy of Mana and her presentation looked to translate that in meaningful and tangible ways in their mahi. The focus was about engaging Māori suppliers throughout the whole cycle of housing construction (and deconstruction) based on her experience in procurement in a way that creates social and economic value above and beyond what is purchased. There were so many other incredible exemplars of the mahi happening in our communities where whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori organisations are just getting on with it. Very inspiring indeed.
I am reminded of the kōrero from Moana Jackson and the difference between homelessness and houselessness. Today marks one year since the passing of this brilliant, gentle, and courageous leader who was New Zealand’s, if not the world’s, foremost international lawyer on indigenous rights. Moana was one of Māoridom’s greatest advocates in terms of the need to do things according to our own kawa, our own tikanga and our own world view. When it comes to housing, affordability and security, there is no other option.