Twenty-two families who have mostly been doubling up with relatives in overcrowded homes finally have room to breathe in a new housing project opened by a Tongan princess in Mangere.

Storeman Sione Leha'uli, his wife Fitalika and what were then their two children were living with Mrs Leha'uli's parents, grandparents, her brother and his wife and two children - 12 people in a crowded Mangere house.

They were the first to move last August into one of 22 new houses built by the Tongan Methodist Church on a vacant 6.4 ha block in Donnell Ave that it bought from Housing NZ for $210,000 in 1994. It has taken 20 years to get the first houses built, thanks to a $4.3 million grant from the Government's social housing fund in 2012.

Former Tongan prime minister Prince Fatafehi Tu'ipelehake named the land "Matanikolo", or "Gateway", symbolising "the gate for families to enter homes for their children to have space".


Today, the late prince's daughter, Princess Mele Siu'-i-Likutapu Kalanivalu Fotofili, officially opened the houses and unveiled a sign for the new street, Fatafehi Place.

Mrs Leha'uli had only just moved out of her parents' house when her baby daughter Annette was born in September.

"We had to move out before I gave birth," she said.

Another woman, who declined to be named, said she and her 17-year-old son had been sleeping in the living room of her brother's house because the bedrooms were already full with her brother and his wife, her brother's son and his wife and three children and the son of another sister who lives in Tonga.

Another family, fabricator Siosaia Mafile'o and his wife Seinisia and three children, were crammed into a two-bedroom house and now have a three-bedroom home for themselves.

Bruce Stone of Airedale Property, the Methodist social housing agency, said the Government grant paid half of the project's $8.6 million cost. The rest came from the land value and a bank loan. Rents are set at 80 per cent of market value, or $310 for a three-bedroom house.

Housing Minister Nick Smith said the Government would consider a new funding application for the next stage of 14 pensioner units.

"The social housing fund had an agreed allocation of $104 million that carries through to the end of the 2014-15 financial year," he said. "One of the issues for the Budget is going to be what form that might take beyond 2015."