The Government's flagship welfare policy for Maori, Whanau Ora - worth $40 million this year - is designed to lift families out of poverty and dysfunction, but it has been criticised as a waste of money and an opportunity for some to rort the system. In a four-part investigation, Yvonne Tahana speaks to those at Whanau Ora's frontline.

Joy Daly was drawn by work to Kawakawa in Northland but a lack of decent affordable housing means she's lived in a caravan while her husband and two grandchildren wait in Opotiki for her to find a house for them all to call home.

She's on a waiting list to move into a Moerewa property, one of 11 built by Ngati Hine Health Trust and Housing New Zealand in a joint $1.6 million project where families must sign up to Whanau Ora to be eligible tenants.

The 54-year-old works at Te Mirumiru, an early childhood education centre, but finding anything which could house Mrs Daly's family has been impossible.

Her grandchildren are aged 4 and 2 and the younger has a heart condition. Her husband, Dennis, an electrician, is off work as he has the sole care of the children hundreds of kilometres away from his wife.


"I was looking for a comfortable home, a fenced home because my mokos are little," Mrs Daly said.

"I've been brought up in humble beginnings so I'm not expecting anything flash ...

"As an adult, I don't care where I live - I could live in a tree - but I have mokos and I think they deserve better."

Substandard housing in the north is nothing new. A 2010 report for the Centre for Housing Research, Te Puni Kokiri and the government's labour service found that 58 per cent of homes in the Kawakawa/Moerewa/Kaikohe region were built before 1970.

Rents increased by 40 per cent in the last two of those towns over the past decade. Trust spokeswoman Maxine Shortland said people's ability to pay to live in below-par homes was a huge issue given that unemployment had remained a challenge for the region since the 1980s.

Tenants will move into homes which have double-glazing, insulation and heat pumps but they must also be part of Whanau Ora.

It means agreeing to things like no smoking or excessive drinking. It also means they'll have access to the range of social services the trust provides.

Ms Shortland said the approach wasn't intended to be coercive or tell people how they should live their lives. But it was about supporting whanau to live happier lives.

"Part of social housing is that it also comes with a wrap-around service. We want them to sign up to Whanau Ora to ensure they've got better health access ... and work with them in terms of what their needs and aspirations are."