The big issue of 2020 – COVID-19 – has sharply exposed the disparities between Māori and non-Māori, with access to adequate and affordable housing remaining a critical issue for whānau Māori. So how will political parties across the spectrum respond this election year?
The 2017 election of the Labour-led coalition saw a move away from the neoliberal policies of the previous National-led government. The Labour-led coalition Government promised to end the sale of state houses, to lead a visionary State-led house building programme, and to crack down on speculators and foreign investors.
Significant progress has been made with the establishment of Kāinga Ora, the government’s urban development authority that amalgamated Housing New Zealand Corporation and Homes Land Community (as well as the controversial Kiwibuild programme). More recently, some important changes have been made to improve protections for renters, with the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act passed in August 2020.
Yet 3 years on, the social housing waitlist had more than tripled. Housing availability, affordability, quality, and security remain persistent problems. The housing market has remained remarkably buoyant (even amidst a global pandemic), and home ownership remains a distant dream for those who are not fortunate enough to already own a home, and out of reach for the vast majority of whānau Māori.
In her February 2020 visit (pre-COVID), former UN Special-Rapporteur for Housing Leilani Farha deemed the New Zealand housing crisis a human rights issue, one that disproportionately impacts Māori, Pasifika and people with disabilities. During the visit, Farha stated that “any attempt to understand whether the right to housing is enjoyed in Aotearoa New Zealand and whether governments are meeting their human rights obligations in this regard, requires recognition and understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi) as a source of rights and expectations for all New Zealanders”.
Te Tiriti Obligations and Housing
So how well is New Zealand meeting its obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi? The short answer – it’s not. Te Tiriti o Waitangi in an international agreement that constitutionally enshrines equality of outcome and opportunity between Māori and non-Māori. Yet in 2020, Māori are still worse off than non-Māori overall across practically every measure. Clearly, the expectations set out in our Treaty agreement are not being met.
The growing disparity between the housing circumstances of Māori and non-Māori has not only economic, but social consequences, and represents serious systemic failure under Article 3 of Te Tiriti. Additionally, the Treaty guarantees rights to self-determination under Article 2.
The Waitangi Tribunal Kaupapa Inquiry Programme is currently underway, and provides an opportunity for thematic grievances of National significance to be heard. The preparation phase of Wai 2750: The Housing Kaupapa Inquiry commenced in 2018 – National Māori housing advocate Te Matapihi and Te Puea Memorial Marae are both claimants in this inquiry.
The findings of this inquiry will likely paint a damning picture of the government’s failures under Te Tiriti, and although the tribunal’s recommendations won’t be binding, it is hoped that the inquiry will also give rise to – and create political pressure to implement – potential solutions.
COVID-19: Exacerbating Disparities
The Government’s response to COVID-19 – the big issue of 2020 and beyond – has been widely praised, both within New Zealand and internationally. The health response highlighted the disparity between Māori and non-Māori, as well as demonstrating the capacity and capability of whānau, hapū, iwi and rōpū Māori to deliver.
During the national lockdown, many sheltered in substandard and overcrowded dwellings, exacerbating existing health issues and issues of domestic violence. Individuals and families experiencing homelessness were housed promptly, with many questioning, why wasn’t this done sooner? Moving forward, the economic impact will also disproportionately affect Māori, with Māori occupying many of the industries most heavily impacted.
Over the past six months, Te Matapihi has hosted a regular COVID-19 Māori Housing Sectoral Response teleconference. The conference has provided a platform to support iwi Māori rōpū involved in the delivery of essential housing services to connect with each other, to share official information relevant to the sector, to flag key issues and concerns that require urgency government response, and to share learnings and good practice from those on the frontlines, and to support and mobilise collaborative strategies.
What we heard is that the housing issues experienced by Māori communities during lockdown are not new but are existing issues that continue to be severely exacerbated. Housing challenges were obviously most poignant for those experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness. Severe overcrowding was experienced by many more whānau during lockdown. Public housing places became scarce preventing transitional providers having somewhere to send whānau and creating a logjam in the system. Providers were exhausted, some experiencing triple their normal work volume with reduced staffing levels.
There were positives also, with strong leadership and manaakitanga provided by communities, collaboration between providers to support vulnerable whānau, and responsiveness of government to emerging issues. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development presented the Māori and Iwi Housing Innovation (MAIHI) Framework for Action and its system change agenda, prioritising the most vulnerable, found favour with the Māori housing sector.
What to Expect in Election 2020
All of these factors mean that this is an election like no other.
From our next post onwards, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the political parties election year housing policies. We’ll be following a similar format to our successful 2017 election year commentary, and we’ll be unpacking each political party’s housing policy to understand what kind of government interventions are being proposed, identifying the key policies that align with sector priorities, and asking two questions – will it work, and will it make a difference for Māori?
This is the first article in Te Matapihi’s Māori housing election 2020 series. Each of the subsequent articles will tackle a political party’s housing policies, focusing on availability, affordability, quality and security, with emphasis on what these all mean for Māori. The series will conclude with a ‘scorecard’ comparison of what works, what doesn’t, and what’s likely to make a difference for Māori.