The Far North's housing crisis is being eased thanks to NorthTec carpentry students, who are building insulated cabins.

The project, Kapene Te Rarawa, is a new initiative between NorthTec and local iwi, Te Rarawa, and the first two cabins are nearing completion in the carpentry workshop at the Kaitaia campus. The cabins are designed to help improve living conditions in the Far North.

Sean Stratton, Te Rarawa's general manager, said the project was born from Northland's housing need.

"Working with local whānau after the Te Rarawa (Treaty of Waitangi) settlement back in 2015, we started a housing project focusing on helping people own their own homes. We soon realised that a lot of the poor living conditions we saw were due to overcrowding, with as many as 15 people sharing a two-bedroom house, or with the overflow in tents on the front lawn in the winter,'' Stratton said.


''So we came up with the idea of building cabins that people could buy outright or fund with an interest-free loan at $50 a week, and that could also be used in conjunction with a rental. The cabins are clean, warm, dry, up to code, and because they are less than 10 square metres, they don't need consents. They are basically a bedroom big enough for a queen size bed and a set of drawers that can be placed near the main house. They have power but no plumbing and provide extra space that reduces the pressure and improves the living conditions in the house."

By 2018, Te Rarawa had built and placed 18.

NorthTec students in Kaitaia with one of the cosy cabins they built to help improve living conditions in the Far North.
NorthTec students in Kaitaia with one of the cosy cabins they built to help improve living conditions in the Far North.

"Demand was still strong so after talking to Phil Alexander-Crawford, director of demand management at NorthTec, we came up with the cabins being a project for the level 3 carpentry course,'" Stratton said.

''We altered the design slightly to meet their curriculum and could also include the painting/decorating students. Now we have a win-win solution: the students get a real life project that improves the living conditions within their own community, and we're no longer paying for labour so as a registered charity we can pass that saving on to the purchasers."

With the first two cabins nearly complete, Stuart Richardson, carpentry tutor at NorthTec Kaitaia, said they hope to finish a total of 10 by the end of the year.

"We've streamlined the processes and patterns now, and the students are really into it. These students are just six to eight months into their pre-apprenticeship training and my role is to give them the practical skills they need and maintain quality control. It's very satisfying seeing their response when they stand back, look at the finished cabin and realise, 'Wow, we made that'," Richardson said.

Stratton said the cabins have so far been placed with no advertising and he knows the demand for them is strong.

"To keep the cabin production numbers up, we're now including the NorthTec Future Trades carpentry students in Whangārei in the project and aim for a future maximum production of 20 cabins a year," he said.