Fixing a broken system
Co-hosted by the Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities National Science Challenge, the Shift Aotearoa Conference in early June was a catalyst to provide a clearer picture to those in the government and the housing sector of what needs to happen to see all New Zealanders well-housed. One of the key-note speakers, the Associate Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Minister of Māori Development, and Minister of Local Government, the Hon Nanaia Mahuta, said in her address, from a Government perspective, the housing system in New Zealand was broken.
Long-term wellbeing of whānau – fixing a broken system
“. . . the extent of how broken the system was when we came into office became so evident - from the issues of homelessness; from the lack of provision of housing into secure accommodation; supported accommodation and what that required, especially in the mental health services; [and] building up the public stock of housing.”
However, she said they weren’t starting at ground zero, “We were starting with a wealth of knowledge and information about what it took to build financial capability [and] skills amongst the whānau, what it took to invest in whānau thinking about a better utilisation of their whenua in order to grow their aspiration, and what papakāinga aspirations might sit along side that. But, more importantly, what was the sustainable vision of the whānau in terms of the whānau and community development?”
Government - an activator, an enabler, and a partner
The Minister explained the role of the government has three characteristics: to be an activator, an enabler, and a partner.
“We can’t do everything by ourselves. We do need partners, we do need to be more engaged within communities to get a ‘play-space’ approach.”
“As an activator, I think our Government is seeking to create the right conditions where diverse aspirations and world views can play an integral role in shaping wellbeing through housing.”
Realising Māori housing aspirations
“This week I visited two couples, who, through our repairs and maintenance programme, we were able to help them upgrade their home. One whānau had lived in their home for 64 years.”
The two-bedroom home in West Auckland had originally been purchased by the mother of the kaumātua who currently owned the house. “He had seven siblings, they were all brought up in the house. He had seven children, they were all brought up in the house. And here’s the thing, they could never afford to do up the house.”
“So, with our humble investment of supporting the repair and maintenance programme they are now able to have a conversation about the section, [they] could probably fit three townhouses, if not four, with the right design. They are now able to have that conversation on that same bit of land, about what the potential is for a modular type of housing environment so that the children and the mokopuna can have secure accommodation.”
She said the children of the kaumātua were renting in various places close-by and “paying through the nose”. And that it was important to examine the potential of existing footprints to provide future secure accommodation.
“With a bit of education and advice and support, I think this is the type of other opportunity we could provide through a Māori-housing lens, and I’m committed to that kind of an approach.”
“We do need to have a whole-of-government approach to housing. And that is the big question: How big and how committed can we be in this space to do something really different to get the shift that you’re all wanting to happen?”
“We are looking for partners, and the partners are iwi organisations, Māori organisations, community organisations, faith-based organisations, who are going to pick up the challenge with us to try and do something different.
“When I think about the role of enabler, we need to support whānau and communities to take the steps required to reach their own housing aspirations, whether that’s to own a home, or simply just to have secure, safe and stable community solutions.”
Government as Treaty partner
The Minister said that while housing is a human right, she believed that, according to Article Three, we should give effect to the Treaty partnership in the housing space. That in addressing the inequity in housing, we start to get “cut-through in all sorts of communities across New Zealand, where deprivation has inhibited so much”.
She said that by applying a “Treaty lens” that seeks to cut through inequity, there are multiple advantages for many communities.
“Sure this will benefit Māori and Pasifika, who we all talk about as not having the access to finance to be able to own homes. Yes, but, it will also help young people, it will also help vulnerable people, our immigrant communities, and [it will] also help many of our disabled communities.”
The Minister says she would like to see diverse partnerships with Government becoming “the norm”. “It is not just about a better landscape for the public sector to work together, it is actually a better landscape for the community and NGO sector, and faith-based organisations to work in collaboration with government agencies, as well as iwi and Māori organisations.”
Kāinga Ora—Homes and Communities Bill
To affect repairs on a broken system, the Government has recently introduced the Kāinga Ora—Homes and Communities Bill to Parliament, with a focus on contributing to sustainable, inclusive, and thriving communities. The Bill establishes the central government housing and urban development delivery capability under one umbrella and disestablishes the Housing New Zealand and its development subsidiary, HLC.
The Minister says the naming of the entity, Kāinga Ora—Homes and Communities, was about a structural shift and an intent to ensure that there was more cohesion in the housing space. That the Government’s intention was to bring back “a focus on place making, on community, on ensuring that we had secure and sustainable outcomes for whānau and again building greater social cohesion.”
The Minister says that through Te Kāhui Kāinga Ora (Māori Housing Unit), the Government wants to support more Māori getting into community housing providers. “But we do recognise there has got to be a lot of collaboration in the space.”
She says that of the existing providers, nine Kaupapa Māori are community housing providers, providing around 350 affordable rental houses for whānau, and to around 150 whānau from the social housing register. “Here’s the thing, Kaupapa Māori community housing providers make up about 20 percent of the total number of registered CHPs [Community Housing Providers], but they deliver only two percent of the IRRS [Income Related Rent Subsidy] places. So, something is not happening, or needs to happen better in order for many of our CHPs to do better and actually respond to the need.”
“For government, we have a broken system, but the expectations are high . . . It is not going to be a smooth path . . . but the point is, we are committed to housing, not because it is a nice thing to do, but because we believe it is a key investment pillar to the long-term wellbeing of our whānau in our communities.
“. . . over the next ten years of key investment I think we will start to see those trends in the most difficult areas really start to change.”
“I’m visiting with communities that say, ‘we’re just trying this out, it’s never been done before, but we are doing it this way because it meets the values of what we are about as an organisation. And we’ve got some partners, and we just need government to do that’. It is a lift, and I’ve seen so much of this around the country, and I think that New Zealand is small enough to foster innovation in the housing space in ways that meet the needs of the community and is play spaced, and can build back and invest in community development.”
Energy innovation example
The Minister outlined the strategy of an energy provider that she had recently met with. The energy provider has created an opportunity for a bespoke group from the highest deprivation areas of their region to be able to have a gift back system for their power system – “you buy power at a set rate, whatever savings you have within the system you can gift on your savings to your neighbour, your grandmother, your cousin, or whatever, that’s in the system. So, they are trialling this opportunity as a way of addressing inequity issues - energy poverty actually.”
“I said, so you mean to say that if I married you up with a community housing provider [with] knowledge of those families in those communities, they could come in to this system and you could help them cut their power bill by at least two-thirds. And they said, ‘yes, that is the intent’. So, we are starting with housing as a key investment pillar, but you know other parts of the system, of infrastructure that sit around housing, are starting to think about the shift required as well.”
“Because, when the most vulnerable in our community are doing well, we are all doing well.”
In summing up the conference, Dr Angus Hikairo Macfarlane (Ngāti Whakaue), Building Better researcher and Professor of Māori Research at the University of Canterbury, said talk of “grown-up” advocacy had resonated.
“Grown-up advocacy is led by values, it is about listening, it is about goal orientation, it is not just brand building, it is political, not partisan, and the key to it all is it has to be collaborative.”
Shift as a continuum
Angus said the talk of shift to rangatiratanga, Treaty partnership, and institutional change added on to the thoughts and contentions of Moana Jackson. “The shift as a continuum, I like that idea, because change doesn’t happen over night, impact takes time - shift takes time.”
What to read more about the Shift Conference? Try this article, Housing as a human right, outlining the keynote address from Paul Hunt, the Chief Commissioner at the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, on a human rights approach to housing.
Date posted: 23 July 2019