A benchmark Budget for Māori housing

Opinion: Funding for Māori housing announced in the Budget will go a long way towards a radical scaling up of Māori housing delivery, writes Fred Astle.

The image shows a young child in the foreground with his family on a sofa in the background, enjoying a comfortable home: Making a house a home is a key pathway for wellness in every sense of the word, explains Fred Astle. Photo: iStock
Making a house a home is a key pathway for wellness in every sense of the word, explains Fred Astle. Photo: iStock

“Me aro tātou ki te paerangi whai kainga, whai oranga!” We should turn our face towards the horizon of possessing a home, we possess our wellness!

This simple little quote from yours truly is about the real aim for Māori, who make up the high end of our nation’s homelessness, deep poverty and mental illness, to be empowered to make a house a home as a key pathway for wellness in every sense of the word.

The 2021 Budget announced last week has the potential to make real that empowerment; to bring closer than we have seen for a long time, the possession of a home.

Almost everyone in Māori leadership circles agrees that Māori housing was one of the big winners in the Budget, with the allocation of $380m to front foot the central government Māori housing strategy of Whai Kāinga Whai Oranga from the $3.8b Housing Acceleration Fund.

I can just imagine Māori Health Minister and Associate Minister of Housing Hon Peeni Henare must have been busting to get this Budget announcement through. It is by far a very significant investment for Māori housing compared to previous budgets where, in some years, this need wasn’t even mentioned at all.

And as anyone close to the darkest realities of the housing crisis knows, it is not before time.

In my role as head of Māori development at VisionWest Community Trust in Glen Eden, I meet whānau every week who are receiving support from our Community Housing service and hear about the traumatic impact of being homeless.

I hear about those placed in motels who find out it’s unsafe for women, tamariki and the whole whānau, and that they need to pay 25 percent of their income towards their accommodation costs. I hear about Māori who have lived under bridges for quite some time and about young Māori mums with toddlers or young school-aged children who have been couch surfing for up to two years, often in unsafe homes.

It is not unusual for an entire whānau who are living in vans or old station wagons to turn up outside our service and wait for an appointment to see one of our Housing Intake Coordinators or Whānau Service Coordinator for help to get on the housing register, desperate to find a safe emergency home or transitional home.

Unfortunately, we are also seeing an increasing cohort of whānau who have been diagnosed with a mental illness or addiction to meth, or sometimes both. This is the reason social housing requires more than just putting a roof over someone’s head. It must also provide the sufficient wraparound service support so they have the confidence and tools to make their new house a home.

The most heart-breaking thing about homelessness stories like these is that the idea of standing on your mana with the deep sense of tūrangawaewae inherited through your whakapapa becomes enslaved or overshadowed by the humiliation, stress and frustration your whānau now find themselves in.

I suspect Henare knew these realities through his own Government data on Māori housing, and national tiki-touring around the motu in the past year, when he harkened to the cry “me aro tātou” or a direct call to action on:

  • The impacts of colonisation on Kaupapa Whare Māori or Māori Housing.
  • The perception that each respective generation has not done enough to prevent the    housing situation we now find ourselves in as Māori.
  • Addressing the 11,100 of whānau now occupying the housing register.
  • The financial, health and cultural impacts of Covid-19 on whānau.
  • Māori overwhelmingly represented in homelessness statistics.
  • Māori living in sub-standard, cold, damp housing in both urban and rural New Zealand.
  • The increasing lack of housing stock available for the whānau, particularly the most vulnerable.
  • The need to ensure effective support services are part of the strategy to ending homelessness.
  • Ensuring Iwi, Hapū, Māori organisations and Māori leadership in mainstream have sustainable Māori-led solutions to improving social, health and economic outcomes for Māori including home ownership.

I had the privilege last year, and again earlier this year, to add my voice to several zui (or zoom hui) with Te Matapihi Independent Housing, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and the MSD about shaping of the Māori and Iwi Housing Innovation (MAIHI) approach, as well as submitting the research paper on The Housing Kaupapa Māori Inquiry to the Waitangi Tribunal at Te Puea Marae in March.

A week on from the Budget, the news announced remains very much a bright note. And while I strongly believe there is no such thing as a silver bullet, I do agree with most in Māoridom, that this funding will go a long way towards a radical scaling up of Māori housing delivery by:

  • Funding Kaupapa Māori-led solutions for Māori including MAIHI in partnership with local Iwi and Māori
  • Increasing the chain of supply of new homes by building 1000 homes for Māori through accelerating a range of options such as increasing papakainga housing, rentals that are affordable for whānau, increase transitional housing and the ability for whānau to own their own home.
  • Improving social and health outcomes by funding repairs on existing homes.
  • Bending the curve of whānau Māori on the housing register.
  • Growing Iwi and Māori capability in providing support services for whānau, especially those who are most vulnerable.

This particular Budget will be significant for Māori for some time to come, and the promise it makes must become the baseline investment we should expect from future governments to reduce the inequities and disparities among Māori by empowering to lead in this development of Kaupapa Whare Māori (Māori housing).

VisionWest Community Trust has been offering community-based services to people in West Auckland since the 1980s. See here for the Trust’s full response to the budget.

Fred Astle is Director of Kaupapa Māori in the Surgical and Translational Research Centre, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

This article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of the University of Auckland.

Used with permission from A benchmark Budget for Māori housing 29 May 2021.

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