23 May 2019

Forum puts spotlight on housing for Pacific people

1:31 pm on 23 May 2019

The impacts on Pasifika from strains in the housing industry came under the spotlight at last week's Pacific Housing Forum in Auckland.

The forum's central aim was working towards everyone having a decent place to live in at a time of major challenges in the housing industry.

As the industry grapples with a housing shortage and climate change effects, Pasifika families across the region are under particular pressure.

Penehuro Lefale, the Nobel Prize winning international climate analyst, speaking at the Pacific Peoples Housing Forum in Auckland.

Penehuro Lefale, the Nobel Prize winning international climate analyst, speaking at the Pacific Peoples Housing Forum in Auckland. Photo: Christine Rovoi

There are 11,067 applicants on NZ's State Housing Register as at 31 March this year - an increase of 40.3 percent compared to the same period last year. Pacific people make up 36 percent of the tenants.

The theme of the forum was 'Powering Collaboration for Housing Impact,' and it was organised by Habitat for Humanity - a global housing charity that operates in NZ and several Pacific islands.

CEO Claire Szabo said the forum was an opportunity to highlight and discuss these unique barriers in housing for Pacific people.

She said the need for accountability should be a point of action.

"What we need to do is hold to account all the players - from all of the global donors, and those country governments - that might be accepting money from both places to say, is that the system that's going to actually deliver the best outcome for my people?"

A conversation at the strategic level between the governments, the community and the Pacific NGOs would be a good place to start, Ms Szabo said.

"It's very clear that each country has its own leadership and its own specific challenges. But there are things and some of those things certainly are around climate change, and what countries can do to prepare what they need to do to prepare."

Ms Szabo said Pasifika are "very, very international, they're transnational and their family make-up, the movement of people with money and skills around the region is quite high".

"And that's a real factor in terms of people being housed and being housed properly. And it's likely to increase a lot thanks to the climate crisis in the region.

"So country governments understanding the exact location or relocation needs that their people might have and to be thinking broadly about how to address those. And remembering that communities need to have a lot of say and need to be very on board with whatever moves there might be.

"There's a registered seasonal migrant scheme that a lot of specific countries are using to come out to places like New Zealand and Australia - they earn the money, they get home and help build their houses and make them stronger."

But Ms Szabo said she hoped the governments were making sure that people were building those houses to a high standard.

"Are we making sure that they are putting them in the right places so if climate change production is going to be sea level rises that they're going to be safe?"

Habitat NZ director Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu also urged the Pacific to support initiatives that not only dealt with the impacts of climate change but to help build climate-resilient homes.

Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu

Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu Photo: Christine Rovoi

Building houses and shelters in the Pacific would also be good for New Zealand, she said.

"Habitat is building homes in the Pacific not only after disasters but also to improve shelter available for the islanders.

"It's about identifying where the priorities are and then applying its experience, volunteers and resources to those particular issues. There's alot of need out there."

Taulapapa said New Zealand and the Pacific had deep connections and both would benefit from improvements to housing in the region.

"The improvement of shelter in the Pacific can contribute to the fact that we have fused futures and integrated prosperity if we deal with some of the social issues that affect the communities, not only in the Pacific but also here in New Zealand."

The deputy chair of Housing NZ, Vui Mark Gosche, agreed New Zealand was facing a housing crisis but added the problem was due to neglect by governments.

"And you pay a very big cost as a nation for underachievement in education and poor health care, and homelessness. Homelessness is the most visible aspect of that.

"But there's a lot of hidden homelessness that I see in my community every day, and which housing New Zealand is running as fast as it can do to try and catch up with a supply of state houses for the future."

Housing NZ deputy chair Vui Mark Gosche.

Housing NZ deputy chair Vui Mark Gosche. Photo: Christine Rovoi

The former housing minister said there were a lot of Pasifika people in NZ living in woeful conditions.

"We deal with a lot of vulnerable families living in transition housing, people who are essentially homeless, and people who are living with disability find tremendous difficulty accessing suitable housing for their family members.

"We've got to tackle this very, very serious issue because it's impacting on - not just our communities who live in those situations but - all New Zealanders because we all pay the cost of the health service that is overburdened by the results of poor housing."

Vui said if a Pacific community in New Zealand was not doing well, it would impact on Pacific people because of the reliance on remittances - "family connections are so strong in terms of financial independence".

Masi Latianara, of Habitat Fiji, said one of the challenges they face is that new building technology is becoming unaffordable.

He said their focus had been on low-income families, but it was hard finding resources and keeping people because they were up against the private sector and construction companies.

"We focus on low-income families, families in squatter settlements, remote locations. We build homes, we build sanitation and we put in water supply for these communities."

Delegates at the first Pacific Housing Forum in Auckland.

Delegates at the first Pacific Housing Forum in Auckland. Photo: Christine Rovoi

Mr Latianara said the houses they built were disaster-resilient housing designed by engineers to a category four cyclone wind loading.

He said they hoped to work with the Fijian government and building authorities in the country to look at more accessible and affordable technologies.

NZ's Ethnic Peoples Minister Jenny Salesa said at the forum the government was considering rent-to-buy as an option for Pacific people as a wider programme.

Mrs Salesa said the government could not tackle this on its own and would work with industry stakeholders.