E rere kau mai te awa nui mai i te Kahui maunga ki Tangaroa
Ko au te awa ko te awa ko au.
The river flows
From the mountains to the sea
I am the river
The river is me.
We have a phrase at home which sums up our relationship to te awa tupua – the Whanganui River. ‘Kauaka e korero mo te awa, ēngari korero ki te awa’. It encourages us to not merely talk about the river; rather speak to and commune with the river.
In this sense, when we talk about the Whanganui River we are relating to the whole river system, the cliffs, hills, river flats, lakes, swamps and tributaries: everything that encompasses the mana, the wairua and the mouri of the river.
But there is also far more involved than the physical, geographical nature of the terrain. Our people go to the river to cleanse themselves, to pray, to wash, to rest. Our awa is our archives; our museum; our highway; our art gallery. It is our shelter; our food basket; our place of peace. Everything leads back to the river. And the river, in return, restores us; refreshes us; revitalises us.
To come to the river then, is to come home.
And so it is that I was particularly pleased that this third national Maori housing conference is here at home – and it is from that basis that I want to speak to you tonight.
For tangata whenua the reality is that Māori Housing / Iwi Housing – means far more than simply a postal code or a retail listing can convey. It is intimately connected with our notion of home – the place our whānau come to in times of joy and sorrow; the reason for us all to be together.
And so it is that when I consider the vast opportunities for Māori, to lead housing development I immediately think of Whānau Ora –investing in the wellbeing and wealth of our whanau.
The well-being of a whānau is intimately linked to the provision of secure, quality housing. It is my own view that housing can be an important catalyst to support better outcomes for our families and whānau.
This conference has been called to both build the capacity of Māori housing providers and to share Māori housing successes from around the motu. The purpose is also to create an opportunity for all key stakeholders in the sector to share your ideas around Māori housing issues.
As we draw to the end of the second full day I cannot help but feel optimistic about the potential for real change, to move towards a future where our whānau are well housed, and have greater ability to choose where they live.
I think one of the stand-out features of this hui has been the reoccurring theme of Maori housing success stories.
Our current housing profile has too often been characterised by the fact that a third of Māori households are state tenants, and fewer than half own their own houses.
And yet what this hui has revealed is the amazing versatility and entrepreneurial flair that is transforming Maori housing reform across the land.
Success stories from Māori housing providers we have heard at this hui include from: Pungarehu Marae, the Ratana Project, Tāmaki Makaurau and Te Tai Tokerau Regional Forum, Western Bay of Plenty and Te Runanga o Kirikiriora.
It’s iwi in the driving seat, taking an active role in designing a new housing future for Māori.
I have the utmost admiration and respect for the cause champions; the architects and designers; the artists and advocates amongst this audience today – for the hope you have given me about the possibilities for our whanau in housing reform.
Many of you have been leading sessions at this conference and you have done so with as much flair and enthusiasm as you are leading change in our communities. I thank you for your contribution to a stronger future for us all.
The platform you are building is a strong foundation for the Māori Housing Strategy which we intend to launch in June; the season of Matariki; ripe for change and new directions.
Within this strategy I hope we can set out the hallmarks for the growth of a Māori -led housing sector.
Just like the diverse streams and tributaries that shape the nature of the Whanganui River, the housing landscape is just as rich and varied.
As many of you will be aware, Treaty settlements are changing the landscape around housing. Many current settlements involve expectations that the Crown will work with Māori to improve housing for their whānau. The settlements also often provide, as part of commercial redress, access to general land which can be used for housing without the constraints that apply to papakāinga land.
Such opportunities can be capitalised upon to create new housing choices for whānau that complement the opportunities we already have to build on papakāinga land.
I do not want to imply that this will happen quickly. But I have to say I am encouraged to see the first signs of this change.
Last year we saw the Tamaki Collective in Auckland take the lead in a consortium with the Housing Foundation to develop 282 social and affordable homes at Weymouth on surplus Crown land in Auckland. It was a unique partnership which also involved funding support from government and the Māori Trustee. And I want to mihi to Jamie for his leadership and his willingness to mobilise assets in order to invest in the infrastructure of housing.
The housing development in Weymouth will provide social rental and home ownership opportunities within the reach of Māori whānau, such as rent to buy and shared equity. While a project on the scale of Weymouth is not on everyone’s bucket list, it does provide another model to explore.
Another area of keen interest for many of you is the opportunity enabled by the social housing reforms to take a much greater role in housing our more vulnerable whānau.
Last month there was a shift in orientation for housing need, with the Ministry of Social Development taking on a role of assessing people for housing need, a role that previously belonged to Housing New Zealand.
People who are assessed as eligible for an Income Related Rent can now be referred to either Housing New Zealand or a registered community housing provider. How this will work in practice is that a tenant will pay a rental based on their income, and the provider will receive a top up from MSD to the level of a market rent.
To access this subsidy Maori housing providers will need to be registered with the Community Housing Regulatory Authority as a Class 1 Social Landlord. This is part of the government’s strategy to grow social housing providers to provide an alternative to Housing New Zealand.
I want to take a moment to congratulate the 12 Māori organisations who are already ‘deemed’ registered. They are the pathfinders for us to follow. Through their innovation and tenacity they have placed navigation points to help show us how to develop new houses. I thank you, our first innovators, for your courage and perseverance and I encourage others to follow the path you have developed.
Under the new social housing reforms, being a housing provider no longer requires you to only build new houses. Now, new registered housing providers can work with Land Trusts and other housing providers to manage tenancies and provide integrated services that will enhance secure and improved access to quality housing.
The government is also considering asset transfers of Housing New Zealand stock to further support the ongoing development of housing providers. I have to say the outlook is appearing increasingly bright in the housing space. The challenge is how to best organise yourselves, individually and possibly collectively, to respond to this new environment.
Last year I introduced a series of changes to the Kāinga Whenua loan scheme. The scheme is now open to whanau or groups and there is no income cap. It is also a real opportunity for collectives and other groups to set up housing schemes. I have found the levels of uptake to this scheme disappointing and I have asked my officials to work with banks on how to make it easier to access. I would of course also welcome your feedback on this.
Finally, I have the greatest pleasure in being able to share with you all tonight, some of the improved approaches to housing that I have been able to negotiate through the Budget process. And I will let you into a secret – I sought special permission to be able to announce these initiatives ahead of Budget Day in order that all of you here can pick up on the ideas to do what you can to enhance the wellbeing of our whānau, hapū and iwi.
This evening I am announcing new funding of $16 million over four years to support the repair and rebuild of rural housing, the improvement of housing on the Chatham Islands and the development of Māori social housing providers through capability- and capacity-building and capital grants.
Iwi are incorporating housing into their long-term planning and Government currently has accords with five iwi. Budget 2014 takes major steps to help iwi and the Crown achieve these housing aspirations.
We have also been able to allocate funding to improve housing in rural areas, including the Chatham Islands. Compared to the rest of the population, significantly more Māori are experiencing housing deprivation and are more likely to be state tenants or renters than home owners and this funding will assist in making basic lifestyle costs less prohibitive.
The new funding will also allow iwi and other collectives to hold a fund for small loans or grants to home owners for repairs to substandard houses in rural areas. These loans or grants will run alongside other housing and community initiatives.
Finally I want to return to my starting point – and that is in relation to the river. My late cousin, Rangitihi Tahuparae once shared these words:
“Nga manga iti e honohono kau ana, ka hono, ka tupu, hei awa, hei Awa tupua.
The small stream that runs into one another and continues to link and swell until a river is formed, is indeed a great river.
That is indeed, a most appropriate proverb which reminds us to celebrate our diversity while at the same time strengthening the basis of every home.
We need to work collaboratively and quickly to enable every home to be a sanctuary of its making; a place in which all our children can thrive; all our older people have a place to call home and our mums and dads can be proud of the strong start they are creating for the future leaders to inhabit.
I wish you a most constructive strategy session tomorrow and I will be greatly looking forward to reading up on the outcomes of this hui.