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Turia: Weathertight Homes Bill

Weathertight Homes Resolution Service Amendment Bill Thursday 31 August 2006 Tariana Turia, Housing Spokesperson for the Maori Party Tena koe te kaikorero o te whare.

In the mid eighties, a Te Awamutu lad, Neil Finn, created a band, which produced one of the all-time favourite New Zealand songs.

That band, appropriately called Crowded House, released the hit, 'Don't Dream; it's over'. The number one hit song described the hole in the roof, trying to catch a deluge in a paper cup and ended:

'There's a battle ahead, many battles are lost, but you'll never see the end of the road while you're travelling with me'. It's a theme song which may well sum up the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service Amendment Bill. The expression of hope amidst the battles of a vast, alienated world, reflects also the faith of tangata whenua that despite the persistent Maori housing crisis, they will never see the end of the road.

It's an expression of faith that we will carry into this latest scheme to provide home-owners with a more effective alternative to the Courts for the resolution of leaky buildings claims.

It's an expression of faith that has endured throughout the decades.

And it has literally been decades where Maori endured leaky homes, houses which are far from weathertight; sub-standard houses; poor housing conditions. In the 1920s, Maori housing was restricted to urban "pepper - potted" situations. Tangata whenua were forbidden from building on their own land; instead they either had to sell or swap their land, in order to obtain a deposit to live somewhere else. In the 1930s, funding was used to replace dilapidated housing -which was both smaller and on a much simpler scale than state-sponsored Pakeha housing. Indeed, until the late 1940s Maori families were outcasts, excluded from mainstream state housing, on the grounds that their presence would allegedly 'lower the tone' of state housing communities. It's what we call 'privilege'.

We remembers our people's homes at Bastion Point being burnt down because the Queen was coming.

Finally in 1948, Maori were concentrated into communities characterised by high Maori deprivation, areas such as in Porirua and South Auckland; (interestingly, the same areas that the New Zealand Police are targeting with their taser gun trial). The scheme administered by State Advances and the Department of Maori Affairs in effect, created ghettos of Maori housing. Yet through it all, Maori communities had faith that their housing aspirations would be realised, the battles would be won, the lack of insulation, floor coverings, floor space, quality paint, wall coverings, concreting, fencing, sewage and community facilities would one day be part of a nightmare that they had survived through. So, although we support the goal of addressing the leaky building crisis, in many ways we have a certain amount of irony in doing so.

For as the homes of tangata whenua would reveal, concerns around the weather-tightness of buildings in New Zealand existed long before 2002 when the Building Industry Association raised concerns regarding leaky houses. To misquote another Finn hit, the housing experience of Maori has been far more, than 'six months in a leaky home'.

The homes of tangata whenua, for decades, have shown signs of damage from water leaking into the house from the outside. They have suffered from the use of untreated timber. They have borne the impact of monolithic cladding systems that retain moisture.

The houses of tangata whenua have been built with inadequate or poorly constructed flashings around doors and windows. And tangata whenua have had to put up with musty smells, with wet or rotting carpet, with paint blistering, wallpaper peeling or cracking, and visible water damage embellishing their family homes.

So although for some sectors, these so-called leaky homes are a relatively recent phenomenon, for Maori communities it has been with us for ever, ake ake, tonu ake.

Almost fifty years ago in 1959, the Young Maori Leaders Conference unanimously endorsed Maori housing as the most crucial issue of the hui. In rural areas particularly, the housing stock owned or occupied by tangata whenua is often of poor quality and often poorly provided with the usual facilities. These problems are made even more complex by the difficulties of remoteness and access - which serves to increase the costs of construction.

Mr Speaker, if this House was to seriously review the situation of generations of deprivation as reflected in the Maori housing crisis, we would all be seriously embarrassed at the priority given to the Weather-tight Homes Resolution Service. If Members of this House were to travel to the Bay of Plenty, up to Northland, up the Coast, they would be appalled. The Co-operative Housing Association; CHAANZ, has identified there are at least 5000 sub-standard houses in Northland alone.

About four years ago when I was the Associate Minister of Housing, we reviewed the housing situation in the NECBOP areas - Northland, the East Coast and eastern Bay of Plenty. There was a lot of caution about exposing the issues surrounding the quality of the building materials, the workmanship, the assessment of the work authorized at local body level, the public health (sewage disposal) issues. Walls were rotting from the internal panels - it was like polyurethaned weetbix. Many of the people were fastidiously clean, but their floors still rotted.

And I recall the statement of an official who said about the situation in a small Maori community in the Bay of Plenty, "If this were to happen to white middle-class people there would be hell to play".

In Rukumoana, the situation was so extreme that sewage was seeping over the lawns, and coming up into the sinks of their houses through the piping. They couldn't get the Council to even pick up their rubbish, as the Council didn't want to offend what they said, and I quote "their redneck ratepayers".

Funnily enough, none of these NECBOP areas benefitted from a change in compensation, or in legislation.

While the provisions for assessment reports, negotiation, processes for resolutions, strengthened adjudication services are all very helpful, the Maori Party must draw the attention of this House to the deteriorating conditions that cannot be overstated.

Mr Speaker, the 2006 Social Report has highlighted that the proportion of low-income households spending more than thirty percent of their income on housing is over twice as high as it was in 1988 - and of these, Maori are highly over-represented.

It was precisely because of the severity of this crisis, that a group of eight agencies, including the North Hokianga Housing Trust, CHAANZ, and the Child Poverty Action Group, got together in 2003 and made a submission for the New Zealand report to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. That submission reported, and I quote:

"There continue to be real problems of social exclusion and poverty in New Zealand, manifested in an affordable housing crisis. We contend the situation is far worse than the Government accepts. Figures show that rising overcrowding impacts on Pacific families, in South Auckland, in particular.

Overcrowding is associated with poor health status and respiratory diseases, infectious diseases and psychological stress. And the conclusion from this group of social service providers was that:

"remediation of sub-standard housing has not, on the whole, delivered sustainable outcomes that take into account the realities of impoverished, under-developed regional communities".

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party is not in the practice of comparing one oppression with another; contrasting one case of deprivation with others. But when will the very real difficulties in the housing experiences of Maori, of Pasifika, of low-income communities in Aotearoa emerge as worthy serious consideration?

Housing is essential to survival; to dignity; to individual and whanau wellbeing. Our homes are key to our sense of security, they are our havens to nurture and bring up families. Conversely, inadequate housing has a significant impact on physical and mental health; about social participation. The link between healthy housing and a healthy community is intrinsic.

Finally, the Maori Party will, of course, support this Bill through to select committee, to ensure that New Zealanders affected by the systemic failures within the building industry that led to the weather-tightness crisis have a chance to put their views forward.

Housing is a basic human right for all New Zealanders. Mr Speaker, we have many proverbs that speak to the central role that stable housing plays in the lives of Maori. There is one, recorded by White in 1887, which gives particular insight. Ko nga tama whakatamatama a Tane, motu te nganahau. The bold and daring sons of Tane, defiant of the storm.

It literally reinforces the value of strong houses, built of bark and wood of trees, from the Forest of Tane. It reminds us of consumer protection; of the need to address the persistence of deprivation, of housing poverty, by greatly improving the housing position.

The Maori Party stands today, to inform the House; that the bold and daring sons of Tane will indeed stand tall, if the Government honours its obligations to respect, protect, and fulfil economic, social and cultural rights, by ensuring that the basic entitlement to housing remains intact.

ENDS

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