Maori housing developments have been under the spotlight in Tauranga this week, with two key ministers attending the three-day National Maori Housing Conference, which wound up on Saturday.
There was a particular focus during the conference on learning from iwi and their partners who have been developing innovative ways of accessing Maori-owned land, marae land, and Treaty Settlement land to build a diverse range of housing.
Conference organising committee chairman Puhirake Ihaka said for whanau, hapu and iwi in Tauranga Moana, and for Maori in general, home ownership had been declining, not increasing.
"This year's theme is 'Ma whero ma pango ka oti ai te mahi' - collaboration and strategic relationships," he said.
"We have to look at initiatives that give us a basic foundation to move forward into owning our own homes by utilising our own whenua."
Both Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell and Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett addressed the conference on Friday. They reinforced the theme of the need for closer collaboration between government and community partners in meeting Maori housing needs.
"The conference is really good in that it is pushing the notion of collaboration, because that seems to have worked, and certainly in the Bay of Plenty," said Mr Flavell.
Maori housing issues were intergenerational and complex, he said. "That's why we are taking a Whanau Ora-centred approach for whanau in need."
Mr Flavell pointed to the benefits starting to show from the Maori Housing Network effort launched just under 12 months ago. He told the Bay of Plenty Times the network and its funding had been "pulled out of" the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment.
"We wanted it be a network that was working across the spectrum from one end to the other," he said. "In other words, from trying to get people into a house at one end, to those who want to become building developers at the other."
The main contribution from the network was advice, he added.
"Hundreds of homes have been repaired and more affordable homes are being built under this effort and while this alone isn't going to fix all the housing problems Maori face, it's a good start."
It was all about giving people information and access to the resources available through Housing NZ and the other organisations that delivered assistance, he said.
"A lot of the time people don't know where to go to get information and organise themselves, particularly with the multi-owned land. The idea of coming together as a family trust and putting all your resources in together is something people don't necessarily know how to do."
While Mr Flavell was not responsible for the Kainga Whenua, another housing scheme for Maori, which comes under Housing NZ, he has asked officials for advice on what changes could be made to improve it.
"We want this scheme to work for Maori - we want more Maori living in their own homes on their ancestral land. But we're mindful that changes alone to this scheme may not necessarily produce more houses for Maori as there are other factors at play such as income levels, qualifications and employment of the borrowers."
Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett told the conference participants they played an incredibly important role in NZ communities and the government recognised and respected that.
"We know that the Government does not have a monopoly on good ideas, advice and expertise. And we understand that to address the issues our nation faces we must all work together. It goes without saying that those of you working in the community, right at the coalface, know your communities best and can deliver the services that your communities need."
That was why the Government's social housing reform programme included growing the community housing sector, she said.
"By giving you more funding and resources, more opportunity and support, we can harness your ideas and expertise so it can help even more of our most vulnerable people," she said.
Taxpayers would spend close to $2 billion on rental subsidies this year, making it important to ensure the money was spent effectively, she said.
The Government has made the Ministry of Social Development the purchaser of social housing and opened up the income-related rent subsidy to community housing providers, not just Housing NZ.
"This is a major change to our social housing system and a significant opportunity for the organisations in this room," she told the conference.
"A fundamental part of the programme is growing the community housing sector to ensure that more people receive the best possible support."
Nga Potiki a Tamapahore trustee Victoria Kingi, a spokesperson for the conference organising committee, said the Western Bay of Plenty had been leading the way in terms of providing innovative housing models for Maori, in particular by utilising Maori land.
Ms Kingi said the biennial conference was the only national opportunity to get together and talk about what was happening around the country, and to look at developing and improving strategies to help Maori have better quality homes.
The Maori Housing Network
The Maori Housing Network is managed by Te Puni Kokiri and supports Maori housing projects with a focus on improving the quality of housing, particularly through community-based repair projects, building the capability and capacity of Maori organisations involved in housing, and increasing the supply of affordable homes.
In its first year, the Network has funded:
• The repair of 243 whanau homes
• The building of 42 affordable housing units
• 32 capability projects
• 11 projects for ground support workers
• 35 papakainga workshops
• 116 infrastructure projects to allow for the building of new homes
• 5 emergency housing projects
• 7 housing workshops
• 79 whanau to access housing facilitation support