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?