Māori housing advocate Rau Hoskins (Ngāti Hau, Ngāpuhi) is Chairperson of Te Matapihi National Māori Housing Trust. As director of design TRIBE architects based in Auckland, he has been involved in the design of Māori housing environments for over 20 years.
After 60 years of Māori urbanisation Rau says that maintaining cultural traditions that create a strong sense of wellbeing, such as kaumātua/elders living with their whānau, poses major challenges, particularly as many are living in state or private rental accommodation.
“The culture has been reasonably resilient in this aspiration, but the housing stock has been unsuitable,” Rau continues. “It is a definition of Māori housing that there are constant changes in occupation through continual changes of circumstances. Often older people are involved with multigenerational housing situations but the physical edifice is limiting. For example, in a three-bedroomed house, if a kuia has her own bedroom, the other two are left for everybody else including the people who come and go. Rather than promote wellbeing such situations can create stress.”
Rau says in an ideal environment a slightly separate bedroom with its own ensuite could provide enough degree of separation for a kaumātua to have respite or time out, but that’s seldom the case with older housing stock.
The concept of having space and ‘time out’ for kaumātua and kuia was embodied in the idea of kaumātua flats introduced in the 1970s.
“Not for us the Eventide homes, the boarding houses where the elderly are put on their own, the communities consisting solely of the aged and infirm. Elders are part of the community and must be given better housing within the community,” said MP Matiu Rata in his opening speech for the Manutuke Kaumātua Flats in 1975.*
Kaumātua flats were generally based around rural marae, though in later decades they have sprung up around city marae such as Hoani Waititi in West Auckland.
“Because those kaumātua and kuia normally are fulfilling active roles on the marae they enjoy the ability to retreat and also the camaraderie they find with others in the flats. Most kaumātua would say they enjoy those dynamics plus the ability to provide some support to their whānau,” Rau says.
Keeping elders active and involved can be achieved through architectural design.
“Looking at developments I know around the country, I think the second bedroom of a kaumātua flat development is key because it means that person can be supported, and also provide some support, for example, to a visiting mokopuna. Their situation can change from week to week. The key question from a design perspective is: Does the physical residence provide for those core values to be expressed?”
A recent creative option has been the re-establishment of an urban papakainga at Pūkaki Marae in Mangere, South Auckland. Here there are two, three, four or five bedroom houses, which are allocated to whānau units and the whānau decide who’s going to be living where.
“I think Māori are quite comfortable moving around a papakāinga because their connections are deeper than four walls. What’s more important is your attachment to the land and the place.”
Another innovative concept still in the planning stages is a multi-generational urban whānau housing complex in Auckland with a cluster of one, two, four and five bedroom dwellings around a central courtyard.
“The idea is that any one of them could be the 'kaumātua accommodation' – there’s flexibility depending on circumstances. This will actively allow for all those changing dynamics to occur and for the fluidity of comings and goings to be supported.”
Rau says there is huge potential in the design of the site to make it easier for people to support each other, especially in a city like Auckland where whānau are often scattered around various suburbs.
“If you are well supported as an older person in a whānau environment, you can easily sit on the porch and watch over the tamariki in the courtyard, or provide support to a working parent with a sick child without having to travel.
“At a physical level, with insulated, well ventilated and double-glazed houses you’ve naturally got a healthier population and you’re going to relieve some stress immediately.
“With this proposal we’ve also got food-producing garden areas – we believe it will have a huge effect on cultural, physical and spiritual wellness."
There are other challenges ahead as the Māori population ages.
“I think for the first time we’re seeing urban whānau who actually don’t feel up to looking after their parents and grandparents. They are either too busy or they have become too urbanised or they physically don’t have the right environment. Over the last five years I’ve been hearing more discussion from Māori my age about looking for a kaupapa Māori retirement village,” he says.
The ongoing decrease in Māori home ownership is “ticking time bomb stuff.”
“It’s hard enough already to get rental accommodation as a Māori whānau. Now Māori will have to be accepting the worst quality rental accommodation and our tenancy legislation doesn’t support or allow for protected long-term tenancies. From a health and wellbeing perspective there are massive issues there.”
*Te Ao Hou No 76 (June 1975)