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We call it home: A history of state housing in New Zealand.

Author Category Source

Reed Books, ,

Published Year

Commissioned by Housing New Zealand Corporation for the centennial of state housing, this book by Schrader is a comprehensive social history that explores the experience of living in a state house in New Zealand.

State housing, as defined in the book, refers to dwellings built by the New Zealand Government for renting to the general public. Schrader emphasises the concept of home as encompassing both physical and social fabrics, including memories, emotions, and experiences. The book explores the origin of state housing as a response to the 19th-century market economy’s failure to provide affordable and decent housing for the poor. The first state houses, built in 1905, were intended as workers’ dwellings. The 1930s saw a significant expansion of construction, transitioning in the 1950s to a policy of selling houses to tenants. Schrader discusses changes in state housing policies over the decades, including the introduction of full market rentals in 1991 and the subsequent impact on tenants. A notable aspect of the book is the inclusion of in-depth interviews with sixteen families, primarily from the North Island, who shared their personal state house stories. The book sheds light on how nuclear families were prioritised as tenants, seen as the ‘backbone of the nation,’ and contrasts this with the treatment of other family groups and Māori. Schrader details the initial exclusion of Māori from state housing until late 1949 and their subsequent integration via ‘pepperpotting’ for assimilation purposes. By the 1970s, the policy of ‘pepperpotting’ was discontinued. Māori were then, at least in theory, provided housing on the same terms as Pākehā. A significant shift occurred in 1991 when the Housing Corporation started charging full market rent and operated as a commercial entity. Those unable to afford these rents were offered accommodation supplements by the Department of Social Welfare. By 2002, a total of 20,000 state homes had been sold, with more being made available for purchase to community trusts. Schrader’s narrative also covers the evolution of state housing design, from the iconic 1940s style with tiled roofs and three-paned windows to the less popular ‘star’ design multi-units. Design enhancements were noted in the 1970s, culminating in a New Zealand Institute of Architects award for a cluster development. The book critically examines the ambivalence of mainstream society towards state housing and its residents, despite its iconic status in New Zealand culture.

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