Papakainga and Co-Housing

A black and white picure of a cohousing complex in Denmark

Today on the RadioNZ website, hot on the heels of an article posted yesterday about the dire state of some rental accommodation in Aotearoa and the new Renters United organisation in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Māori architect Rau Hoskins was interviewed about the concept of papakāinga. Rau says "The euro-centric approach to housing, I would argue, is not even working for Pākehā people, because we see marooned elderly people in their own homes, or living away from their children or living in rest homes.

What struck me most about the interview is that Rau's description of papakāinga was very similar to the conceptual goals of permaculture inspired, co-housing communities like Earthsong Eco-Neighbourhood in Tamaki Makaurau. According to RNZ, "Mr Hoskins is working on a project designing papakāinga in an urban setting, with high quality homes, clustered around communal outdoor areas." This is exactly what Earthsong and has done, and what a growing network of co-housing groups want to do. The main difference with Rau's concept is the focus on kaupapa Māori, although the existence of predominantly Pākeha communities like Earthsong call into question his claim that "the desire to live in close proximity to each other is a uniquely Māori dimension".

A more controversial part of the article is the suggestion that selling public housing, currently held by Housing NZ, to iwi corporations, is a way forward for creating papakāinga. As RadioNZ puts it "iwi leaders have expressed an interest in buying state houses from the government and the chairperson of Rūnanga o Te Rarawa said that could help kick-start the development of papakāinga." Interesting then, that very litte of the land returned in the various Treaty of Waitangi settlements thus far has been used for affordable housing, with iwi corporations preferring to build casinos and malls (Waikato), and demolish existing buildings to create commercial parking lots (Ngai Tahu).

A woman I met from one hapū asked her iwi corporation for land to create a permaculture inspired papakāinga, a demonstration and training centre including various green building projects, which aimed to return to her people the skills and confidence to build their own housing from their own local materials. She has done a fantastic job with a polluted former Ministry of Works site that had previously served as an informal rubbish dump. Surely iwi corporations have land they could use for papakāinga without forcing their people to leap these sorts of hurdles, and without being accessories to the privatization of public housing?

One example can be found on the banks of the Arahura river, near Hokitika,on the west coast of Te Wai Pounamu, where a hapū affiliated to Kai Tahu have formed a papakāinga called Arahura Pa. Another example in the larger Te Whanganui-a-Tara area, was mentioned in the RNZ report, "earlier this year, the Wainuiōmata Marae had neighbouring land returned from the Hutt City Council. That land was now considered a marae reserve, which it was hoping to develop into a papakāinga. Marae secretary Cheryl Davies said while it was only early days, the development would be eco-friendly and the marae would act as its focal point. She said the homes would be well-built and targeted at people struggling to get into housing."

Even where Māori come to agreement about using resources they hold in common to create new papakainga, they can often face barriers erected by Pākeha institutions like central and local government. Tapu Te Ranga is a unique contemporary marae established with the kaupapa of addressing Māori homelessness in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Their kaitiaki have struggled for years to get the necessary building permissions from local government to build affordable eco-housing on their marae, which supports the Manawa Karioi native revegetation project on land partially gifted to them by the Sisters of Compassion. In an arguably racist decision by the Wellington City Council, 13 new "special housing areas" have been created in the city, while Tapu Te Ranga are still denied permission to build. In another example, a hapū of Kai Tahu have been trying for years to build affordable housing on their traditional land at Tuahiwi, but they too find themselves tangled in the proverbial "red tape".

Of course, facing off against conservative institutions when trying to do news things in new ways is something many permies can relate to. Perhaps the best thing we can do as a predominantly Pākeha network is to stand with Māori whose attempts to solve their own problems, by drawing on their own cultural traditions and resources, are being blocked by neo-colonial attitudes in our public institutions. One example would be to support Tapu Te Ranga, who hosted our PINZ Hui last year, in realizing their kaupapa of building their own housing for their people. But what else can we do to build mutually supportive whānaungatanga between the co-housing and eco-village projects within our networks, and papakāinga projects being envisioned and realised by tangata whenua?


Welcome back Strypey.... we've missed your insight during your internet fast. There are several sites our village is listed with including Fellowship for Intentional Community and Global Eco-village Network.

The Iwii corporations that the government forced Maori to set up so they could go into negotiation on terms determined by colonial culture are acting in the way any corporation does. Disregarding the good of their own people for profit, a lot of the "Rangatira" of these organisations have just become puppets so the colonial government can move away from the original founding document He Wakaputanga o Te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni

A well measured critique by Strypey of Michael Cropp's supremely un-critical regurgitation of what appears to be a press-release by Rau Hoskins.

Mr Hoskins appears to be more interested in raising his personal profile than contributing anything tangible to current concerns about housing arrangements, quality and affordability. He is quite right to argue that "the...approach to housing... is not even working for Pākehā people, because we see marooned elderly people in their own homes, or living away from their children or living in rest homes", but using the term "euro-centric" is disingenuous to say the least, as is his claim that "the desire to live in close proximity to each other is a uniquely Māori dimension". It is mere posturing and hard to believe that a person who is an academic as well as a practicing professional actually believes his own myopic spiel.

Arguably, the Marae in its current form bears more resemblance to a mediaeval european village than to pre-colonial Maori dwelling arrangements such as the Pa, which in turn bears a resemblance to more ancient forms of European settlement such as the hill-fort. This is not to suggest they are in any way derivative -it is simply a matter of form following function. Since Maori were largely a rural and self-sufficient population until after WW2, it is hardly surprising that the urban Marae still retains a cultural inheritance from its rural counterpart. Europeans, and specifically the British, have four centuries of agricultural enclosures and industrialisation alienating them from the functional root of such communal living.

The current position is brought about by historical development rather than innate cultural difference. It's disfunctionality is largely predicated by the contradictions of the modern world.

  • The demand for a more mobile workforce in industial society than was previously required in the agrarian world.
  • Affordable transport options.
  • The tendency towards property ownership rather than renting or tied-housing. This has brought about the distortion of values (both moral and financial) by the economic function of property as investment for individuals and collateral for interest-bearing debt for the banking system.
  • Social and inter-generational disintegration, arguably a result of the replacement of common culture by "fashion" i.e. the desire of individuals and cohorts to express difference rather than "sameness".
  • The list is probably almost endless.

    New Zealand is in a particularly odd situation since the entire built geography of the country was created by colonial edict rather than by natural progression. Thus roads connect ports to farms in a dendritic pattern to facilitate penetration of capital and extraction of value, rather than a network to facilitate communication within and between communities. This has has a profound effect on attitudes towards property and created a virtue out of isolation, probably simply because it has become a cultural norm. Most NZers aspire to detatched living on a large section and this is institutionalised in planning law by rules of "one title one dwelling".

    I agree wholeheartedly with Strypey's reservations about the role of Maori Incorporations. If they see an advantage as purchasers of social housing they are doing so from a purely commercial perspective rather than altruism. It is a mistake to view these institutions of Maoridom as in any way benign or socialistic in intent. This is a colourwash applied by some activists and those Maori with a vested interest. One of those vested interests would be Mr Hoskins himself as the Incorporations would be potential future clients. I would go as far as to say that his interview or press release was designed to position himself thus.

    I think it is a flawed argument for Floydian Nectar to suggest that the government forced the Maori Incorporations to be set up in order that the government could deal with Maori on terms dictated by colonial culture. Whatever pre-colonial Maori culture was in terms of their view of property, their world was hierarchical and authoritarian. This is the reason that the Maori Party and the Incorporations are such a natural fit with the National Party. Ordinary Maori have, by and large, moved on from that view, which is why they have rejected the Maori party so vehemently, though I think that they, along with many ordinary Pakeha who might be expected to vote for Labour, have yet to find a vehicle for political expression.

    It was always in the power of the Maori incorporations to use their wealth to set up new types of social and economic structures that would empower ordinary Maori yet most choose not to. A few did use a large amount of their funds to facilitate direct benefits to their people but these cannot be sustained without structural change.

    I see the Marae and the Permaculture inspired co-housing / eco-village project as manifestations of essentially the same intention. The hurdles are to defeat the resistance of conservative ideology that has a vested interest in retaining the neo-colonial economic model and to make the concept as attractive to the general populace as it is to (some) Maori.