Māori are far more likely to be homeless and far less likely to own their own homes than non-Māori. Now, initiatives that were set up to improve Māori access to housing are being dismantled, with no new policies to be seen.
In the wake of change to New Zealand’s government, plans from the National-Act-NZ First coalition have stimulated significant protest from Māori. These protests have centred on attacks on Te Tiriti o Waitangi across policy and legislation and highlighted the importance of understanding the details of the coalition’s policies and how they may impact Māori. Like many governments before now, housing is a key feature for the coalition parties, yet there is a significant lack of detail about Māori housing and homelessness.
WAI2750, the Waitangi Tribunal’s Housing and Policy Inquiry, highlighted the concerning reality for Māori housing and has built a firm case for the Crown’s breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi due to the failure of the Crown to ensure Māori have a right to stable housing. This report highlights the intergenerational impacts of housing policy and brings to light the necessity to ensure Māori generations to come have easier access to housing than the current climate provides. Over the past decade, even though Māori make up only about 15-17% of New Zealand’s population, they represent a staggering one-third of all people living in severe housing deprivation. Furthermore, in 2018, only 31% of whānau Māori families owned their homes, including family trusts. This is compared to non-Māori households, where over half (52%) owned homes.
Despite prime minister Christopher Luxon’s claims that his is a government that supports improving outcomes for Māori, there is no mention of Māori or Te Tiriti o Waitangi in any of the housing policies from across the coalition. In fact, changes have already begun to disestablish a broad range of previous government initiatives that were set up to improve Māori access to housing.
For example, the repeal of the Spatial Planning and Natural and Built Environment Act before Christmas. The two new laws were set to create a new resource management system over the next 10 years, both of which have specific Te Tiriti o Waitangi provisions and recognise kawa, tikanga Māori (including kaitiakitanga), and mātauranga Māori.
The associate minister of housing (Māori housing) role, previously held by Labour MPs Willie Jackson, Peeni Henare and Nanaia Mahuta, has now been disestablished. It is likely that the Māori housing portfolio will be consolidated back into the Māori development portfolio under minister Tama Potaka this parliamentary term. The disestablishment of the role is concerning, given that the appointment of a minister for Māori housing emerged in 2017 from recommendations by Te Matapihi He Tirohanga Mo Te Iwi Trust, the national peak body of the Māori housing sector.
The associate minister of housing (homelessness) role formerly held by Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson has also been dissolved. Advocates from Manaaki Rangatahi Youth Homelessness Collective campaigned for the retention and strengthening of this position.
These changes are concerning. The role was important for maintaining a specific focus on rangatahi homelessness within the broader homelessness problem. Rangatahi experiencing homelessness have unique causes and require targeted solutions.
Getting rid of the role risks rangatahi homelessness falling through the cracks or not receiving adequate high-level attention and priority within government. This goes directly against the recommendations of frontline organisations working with rangatahi experiencing homelessness, and undermines their efforts to address the issue.
For Māori, housing is important not just for the house itself, but also for the broader reach of kāinga as connecting and protecting people and the whenua. To have so many Māori homeless on their own land is among the most cruel outcomes of colonisation.
Under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, where tino rangatiratanga is affirmed alongside the protection of taonga, Māori expected to always be able to live and be housed on their land. Homelessness is a direct outcome of landlessness. With Māori homelessness and home ownership statistics showing that Māori are among the most likely to be homeless and least likely to own homes, it is clear that numerous past governments have failed to uphold their role as a Treaty partner.
There needs to be strong commitments in housing laws and policies that recognise upholding and honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi obligations in order to address housing access disparities for Māori communities. However, the lack of acknowledgement from the coalition government and rapid changes already underway suggest that the importance of housing as a Treaty right will continue to be a point of struggle for Māori and allies.