Despite their best efforts to reject its existence, the housing crisis is now impossible to deny and causing serious problems for the Government.

The focus of the issue keeps spiralling out too - from housing affordability, to unpopular state house sales, to shoddy rentals and rental market problems and, most recently, Te Puea Marae stepping up and embarrassing the Government by doing an amazing job in helping our homeless.

As with far too many socioeconomic indicators in New Zealand, Maori are at the sharp end of this crisis. Figures from Statistics NZ have revealed that in the last 30 years Maori homeownership in New Zealand has plummeted by 20 per cent, while the proportion of Maori living in private rentals has jumped 88.3 per cent.

Homeownership falls were close to 40 per cent in Whangarei, South Auckland, Tauranga, Rotorua, and my own hometown of Hastings.


These figures are appalling but won't come as a surprise to those who have been at the coalface.

About 90 per cent of all enquiries to my electorate offices are to do with whanau in desperate housing situations. In Hastings alone, my office is currently working to urgently find solutions for three families. All have children with health issues.

One family is in overcrowded conditions with a total of 11 people in the house, one family was living in their car until two months ago and is now temporarily boarding with Housing NZ clients, and another family with five children is living in a shed. Each of these whanau has been unable to find private rentals - either because landlords don't want children in their properties, affordability issues or the houses don't meet their needs.

We often hear the housing crisis is an Auckland problem, and that it's locking a generation out of home ownership, making it almost impossible for low income households to catch up. This is all true, but the real picture is even worse: the housing crisis is locking out Maori, not just in Auckland but across other cities as well and falling faster than for the general population.

National's refusal to address the housing crisis is exacerbating existing inequalities which will affect Maori for generations to come.

We now live in a country where the top 10 per cent of people have almost 60 per cent of wealth, while the bottom 40 per cent of households hold just 3 per cent of total wealth.

Ethnic divides are stark: European people have an individual median net worth of $114,000 compared to $23,000 for Maori.

These inequalities are not the Kiwi way. Aotearoa New Zealand is a country founded on egalitarian principles - the commitment that all New Zealanders get a fair go and that no one is left behind.

A cornerstone of those principles is the belief that housing is central to wellbeing, not only for each of us as individuals, but to society. From safe, warm housing flows improved education and health outcomes for children, the ability to find work, and build a stable life. And Government must have a role to play in helping people into homes. It was this principle, this social contract, which the first Labour Government upheld when they committed to ensuring all New Zealanders would have access to a decent home. At the time, the housing market was out of control and people were living in slums. Eighty years later, we seem to going backwards

Maori need a strong voice in Cabinet, and The Maori Party, while frequently claiming wins for Maori, are simply not doing enough to address this issue. Earlier this year, they disappointed many by supporting National's state house sell-off. When Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell makes comments that housing affordability and supply 'are certain conditions you cannot change', it's hard to escape the conclusion that he has given up trying to help Maori into housing. The Minister should be insisting the Government build more state houses, not sell them off.

Maori will not have a better future while the Maori Development Minister props up a Government that denies a housing crisis even exists.

The Government must take action now, not continue to tinker around the edges. National should embark on a massive state-backed affordable house building programme and crack down on speculators that are driving up house prices.

The next Labour Government will do what National has failed to do - take action to reignite the egalitarian principles this country was founded on. Maori need homes, we will build them.

- Meka Whaitiri is the MP for Ikaroa-Rawhiti and the Labour Party spokesperson for Local Government.

- Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: