A house that is a home for whānau Māori

What makes a house a home for whānau Māori? What are the things that enable the ideal and what are some of the barriers?

In conversational interviews, Building Better researcher Dr Fiona Cram spoke with 27 Māori key informants about what makes a house a home for whānau Māori and how does housing support Whānau Ora (Māori collective wellbeing).

For many people, our social and material environment is a source of confidence in our self-identity. But Dr Cram says that for Māori, this material environment extends beyond the four walls of a home and into the whenua (land), emphasising the importance of place for a sense of belonging.

“Likewise, the social environment extends to encompass whānau who may live in multiple dwellings, as well as whakapapa (genealogy) connections with tipuna (ancestors) who have passed and mokopuna (grandchildren) yet to be born.”

Participants in the interviews identified collective (social and cultural) capital, financial capital, and structural responsiveness as essential elements of creating a house that is a home. However, they also identified multiple barriers to achieving this end including poverty, poor-quality housing, and structural resistance.

“Their discussion of the material environment of the home was more about the health and wellbeing impacts of poor-quality housing. Whānau were also seen as being under stress from issues related to the security of tenure and affordability of rental accommodation, with social housing and affordable housing seen as viable alternatives. The importance of neighbourhoods was reflected in participants’ talk about planning intentional communities for whānau, while some participants also reflected on place and whether or not they lived within their Iwi rohe (regions),” says Dr Cram.

Dr Cram says that cultural values of manaaki, aroha, awhi (support), and whanaungatanga (kinship relations) have provided continuity across generations, with the practising of these values sometimes remaining consistent and sometimes being revised. Whanaungatanga and aroha were perhaps the most constant, with the importance of whānau connectivity and love the most stressed.

“Practices of manaaki were managed in more constrained ways than in their parents’ generation to keep whānau safe, with this sometimes coming about because open-door practices had brought whānau into their homes who did not know how to live in a values-based way. In effect they were managing an expert system based in te ao Māori and using this to assess and position themselves within the contemporary world they inhabited.” This was more difficult to implement for impoverished whānau who have not had the opportunity to purchase their own home, with many being pushed into precarious housing arrangements and potentially homelessness by systems that have undermined the affordability and security of rental housing.

“The result is that whānau are clinging to whatever housing security they can, even if this means they are living in poor-quality housing and are afraid to request repairs and maintenance for fear that they will lose their house. Compared to homeowners, those who were renting were more likely to report that their home needed maintenance, that it was damp, and that it was always or often cold. The resulting chronic housing stress impacts on people’s ability to create a home and to practise values such as manaaki, as supporting their whānau when they need somewhere to stay may impact upon rental tenure, if not also the limited resources that whānau themselves have to call upon to keep themselves afloat.”

Dr Cram says further investment in affordable housing for Māori is essential for ensuring they are well-housed in secure and affordable accommodation, and that whānau are able to be ‘at home’.

“This being at home is about being able to ‘be’ Māori and ‘do’ or live Māori values such as whanaungatanga, manaakitanga, and aroha. The memory and practice of these values is still real for many whānau and creates security and the certainty of identity. The importance of the whenua, and more generally place, are seen to add to the feeling whānau have of being at home. The fear is that a long-term crisis in housing will undermine the security of Māori and have detrimental impacts on people’s mana (status), tūrangawaewae, and their very identity as Māori.”

Read the report:

Cram, F. (2020). He mātou whare, he mātou kāinga hoki – a house that is a home for whānau Māori. Report for Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities: Revitalising the Production of Affordable Housing for Productive, Engaged and Healthy Lives. May 2020, 32 pgs. Wellington: BBHTC.

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Date posted: 10 June 2020