Affordable Housing report calls for independent community authorities to support Maori

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A report just released by the Productivity Commission is calling for independent community authorities to achieve better outcomes for Maori wanting to realize the dream of homeownership.

The Commissions findings and recommendations highlight Maori aspirations for warm, safe, healthy and affordable housing rural and urban, on general or Maori title land. The following are excerpts from their info document, Affordable Housing – a Focus on Maori Issues:

A house is more than just a roof over our heads our homes are where our whanau gather, and housing is important for our health and well-being, and for the development of tamariki.

For many Maori communities, housing is valued more for keeping whanau connected to land, tradition, tupuna, and whanaunga, than as a financial investment. This is not to say that Maori are never interested in housing for financial reasons, but housing solutions for Maori will sometimes need to be different, particularly in areas of traditional settlement.

The aspirations Maori have for housing are challenged by the lower household incomes and lower financial literacy of many Maori.

Financial literacy education was emphasised to the Commission as an important part of any solution to Maori housing needs, especially if a community development approach is taken.

It was emphasised to the Commission that the social and cultural resources Maori have are as important as financial resources, and that in combination, these could enable Maori to overcome the barriers they faced to affordable housing solutions. The Commission is persuaded that this is a realistic approach.

House prices and homeownership

Far fewer houses in lower price brackets are being built these days. Council restrictions on urban expansion, high charges for infrastructure (for connections to water and sewerage) and financial contributions under the Resource Management Act make land for housing expensive. Auckland is one city where these constraints have heightened house prices and rents.

There is an urgent need to increase land availability, to ease supply constraints and price pressure, particularly in Auckland, where section costs now account for around 60% of the cost of a new house, compared with 40% in the rest of New Zealand. The increase in the value of land will also have driven up the prices of existing houses, making it more difficult for everyone, including the many Maori who live in Auckland, to move into homeownership.

Getting innovative use of new or traditional materials approved as a way of complying with the building code can be difficult and time consuming and building consent authorities have become very risk averse in their approach to building consents in the wake of leaky building syndrome.

However, the MultiProof building consent for volume building of standard designs shows some promise.

Housing affordability also includes on-going maintenance costs.

There are particular challenges with the quality of rural housing in the regions that have high Maori populations.

The Commission recommends that the Putea Taiwhenua (Rural Fund of the SHU) should be used to provide seed funding to organisations, using a microfinance lending approach, to address the quality of the rural housing stock.

Housing on Maori land

The challenges of building homes on Maori land are well documented. Difficulties in using land as security for finance, zoning restrictions, getting agreement from shareholders in land blocks, poorly coordinated or communicated government responses, all feature prominently.

Most of these challenges are not insurmountable. To get homes built on Maori land, public services, whanau, and finance institutions would all need to take action. In general, this doesnt happen because there are plausible reasons why another group, or someone else within the group, should act first.

To address this:

  • A team of Maori housing expert advisors, housed in a national agency like Te Puni Kokiri or the proposed Whanau Ora commissioning agency, should be made available to Maori landowners with aspirations to build housing on their whenua, to guide them through consent processes.
  • Whanau Ora facilitators should be trained to educate whanau about the options for management structures for their Maori land, and to play a role in developing plans for the use of Maori land for housing (where this is what the whanau wants).
  • Te Puni Kokiri, working with the Maori Land Court and private finance institutes, should develop options to adapt existing lending policies and precedents for private finance institutes to lend for building homes on Maori land.

Private finance may become more readily available if accurate advice about the risks of lending on Maori land (and appropriate ways to manage those risks) was more readily available.

Role for Whanau Ora

The Commission received a range of views about Whanau Ora as a vehicle for progressing the housing aspirations of Maori, some sceptical, some supportive.

Chapter 13 of the full report identifies the role it could play, and what it would have to do to be successful. Whanau Ora is best placed to lead a lasting response to the challenges of building homes on Maori land.

At an operational level, Whanau Ora can address Maori housing aspirations through helping whanau plan and through coordinating local public services.

As well, Whanau Ora can help draw together whanau to make use of their existing resources social, cultural, and financial to plan how they wish to achieve their housing aspirations. It can assist in coordinating the government response to these aspirations at the community level, in rural or urban
contexts, on general or Maori title land.

To start the conversation, the Commission has reviewed three models to see whether they could provide the necessary security for banks to lend: trust guarantees, a financial options system, and mutual insurance schemes.

Under the right circumstances, each of these shows some promise. As well, the Commission has reviewed two models of housing where there is an element of common ownership.

These are licences to occupy (as used by retirement villages) and unit titles, under the Unit Titles Act 2010. Each of these models could form robust ways to manage housing on Maori land.

Tawhiti rawa i to tatou haerenga atu te kore haere tonu, maha rawa o tatou mahi te kore mahi tonu.
We have come too far to not go further, we have done too much to not do more
(Sir James Henare
)

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