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The more the merrier? (Image: Archi Banal/Getty Images)
The more the merrier? (Image: Archi Banal/Getty Images)

OPINIONSocietyJanuary 23, 2023

I grew up in a crowded home and I’m grateful for it

The more the merrier? (Image: Archi Banal/Getty Images)
The more the merrier? (Image: Archi Banal/Getty Images)

New statistics reveal that nearly 40% of Pasifika people live in a home that’s short on bedrooms. Sela Jane Hopgood takes us into her overcrowded family home and asks whether it’s large extended families that are the problem.

It’s no secret in Aotearoa that the majority of Pasifika people come from large families. Valerie Adams, Faumuina To’aletai Mafaufau David Tua and the late Willie Los’e are prime examples.

However, responses to a One News article about last week’s Stats NZ report that Aotearoa’s housing is often unsuited to Pasifika families highlighted how many people don’t actually understand what Pasifika people mean when they say they come from a “large family”. 

Or why a Pasifika person doesn’t seem shocked when their Sāmoan friend says he has nine siblings. Or why you rarely see elderly Pasifika people in rest homes.

I come from a family of nine including my mum and dad. I have four brothers and two sisters and this year marks 40 years of living in our family home in South Auckland, which my parents bought on a single income back in 1983.

It’s a standalone three-bedroom home and over the 40 years, it has housed not only my immediate family, but grandparents, aunties and uncles, cousins and grandchildren.

An aerial view of Māngere
An aerial view of Māngere (Photo: Getty Images)

As a family we reaped the benefits of the Tongan language transmission, as we heard it spoken around the household constantly.

Monday was always our washing day, and it was like a 9am-5pm shift because it would take my mum the whole day to get through six to eight loads of laundry. There was always a queue to the bathroom at the beginning and end of the day. We never had to worry about the expiry date on milk and bread because we would get through those items within days, if not hours.

As our family expanded, my parents played Tetris trying to fit us all in comfortably while sticking to the Tongan tradition that a sister was not allowed to share a bedroom with her brother. I shared a bedroom with my younger sister for around 20 years and that’s what laid the foundation for us remaining best friends to this day. However, as a student, I did have to study right up until midnight at the university library as I knew I wouldn’t get the same peace and quiet back home. My parents’ bedroom was the lounge and although sometimes it was embarrassing to have a bed in the lounge, we did enjoy lounging on it as we watched Dragon Ball Z after school.

In the late 1990s, Mum and Dad saved up to have a garage built in our backyard, which included two extra bedrooms. That became a common sight on our street – garages turned into sleepout spaces or portable sleepout/self-contained cabins added onto the front lawn.

It was affordable back then and a lot of the houses bought 40-plus years ago had a generous front and backyard to allow for these plans to unfold. 

That’s not the case today.

Now I’m 31 and own a three-bedroom townhouse with no backyard in central Auckland with my husband, our four-year-old son and my brother-in-law. The home suits us now, but not if we plan to have more children as we can’t do what my parents did in the ‘90s and add a sleepout.

Choosing to have my brother-in-law live with us reflects the way I was brought up with my family – not wanting to let our family live alone, but also the importance of always having our family together. I will never tire of the strong bond my son has with his uncle or, as he calls him, his best friend.

I visited my family home recently and there were some streets I barely recognised because of the new construction in place – construction that looked like the very townhouse my husband and I bought. I immediately saw how a “small” Pasifika household would struggle to live in such cramped spaces.

Big families, smaller and smaller houses

I wonder who are the brains behind these houses in South Auckland, with its high density of Pasifika families? Who thought it was a good idea to have rows of 2-3 bedroom townhouses as a solution for this community? Pasifika people are more likely than the total population these days to rely on the rental market for their housing, yet a 4-bedroom rental in Favona costs on average $850 per week.

Kāinga Ora is building 10,000 new houses in Māngere over the next 10-15 years. (Photo: Justin Latif)

Stats NZ’s wellbeing and housing statistics manager Sarah Drake said it herself: “Our growing Pacific population is often unsupported by our current housing, particularly in large urban areas like Auckland where Pacific peoples are most likely to be located – and where even unsuitable housing can be unaffordable to rent or own.”

In the 2018 Census almost 400,000 people living in New Zealand identified with at least one Pacific ethnicity; two-thirds were born in Aotearoa and around 60% were under 30 years old.

Again, it’s no secret that Pasifika households include parents, children, grandparents or in-laws and sometimes aunts and uncles too. That has been the make-up of our families since we began migrating from the Pacific region. We pride ourselves on sticking together, making sure our family members are well taken care of and not alone in a western society.

The 2018 General Social Survey data showed that living with more people was associated with lower rates of loneliness for Pacific peoples. For all Pacific peoples, the average family wellbeing score in 2021 was 8.1 out of 10, compared with 7.7 out of 10 for the total population. This enhanced wellbeing is especially significant when you consider that Pasifika families tend to have less socio-economic privilege. Our strong family bonds serve us well. 

Although the facts laid out by Stats NZ are interesting, tell any Pasifika person that they’re living in a home that’s “not big enough” for their family and they would respond that they’re blessed to have a roof over their head.

If they wished for change it might be for a larger house; but reduce the size of their strong supportive family network? No way. 

This is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

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