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Changes in Māori housing tenure before the 1980s

Thorns (1995) showed that home-ownership rates for Māori were higher in the earlier part of the 20th century and declined once Māori urbanised. Urbanisation occurred rapidly in the mid-20th century. The government encouraged resettlement after World War II as they realised there was insufficient rural land to support the burgeoning Māori population (Pool & Kukatai, 2014). At the time, the census identified differences in tenure through the concept of Māori dwellings (see definition below). The 1951 Census noted that only 9.4 percent of Māori dwellings and 18.7 percent of the Māori population were in urban areas, but by 1961 31.1 percent of Māori dwellings and 33.3 percent of the Māori population were urban.

Figure 6

Graph, Percent of Maori living in urban areas.  

Defining an ethnic dwelling

The definition of a Māori dwelling has changed over time. Before the 1960s, there was little information about defining a Māori dwelling. From the 1960s to the 1980s, the Statistics Department defined a dwelling as Māori if the head of the household was ‘half or more Māori ancestry’, or was ‘less than half Māori ancestry’ but the majority of the inhabitants were of ‘half or more Māori ancestry. In 1981, a Māori dwelling was defined using the ethnicity of the occupier (head of household). Home ownership for Pacific dwellings was recorded on the same basis in the 1981 Census.

We no longer use the concept of an ‘ethnic’ dwelling.

The 1936 Census recorded that 70.5 percent of Māori dwellings were owned by occupants, mainly in rural areas. Housing in rural areas tended to be smaller, with almost 40 percent of Māori dwellings having one or two rooms in 1936. The census and Statistics Office noted in the 1947–49 yearbook that “Many of the Maori dwellings are without household amenities customary in European dwellings; however, the Maori dwells mainly in rural areas, where some of the amenities are not readily available”.

The condition of some rural housing was very poor. Even as late as the 1980s, the Housing Commission reported:

Māori households in the Tai Rawhiti (East Coast), Tai Tokerau (Northland) and Rotorua/Whakatane areas … have the most serious unmet housing need in the country in terms of the proportion of households suffering acute housing problems and the duration and severity of the problems…Substandard conditions were also widely cited and ranged from houses being condemned, having inadequate sanitation facilities, to lack of power or water connected to the house. Forty years of neglect of Māori housing in rural areas has been compounded by the slowing of the rural urban migration of young Māori and in many places the return of Māori families to their land. (Quoted in Saville-Smith & Wehipeihana (2007)).

With increasing urbanisation the Māori home-ownership rate fell to 54.8 percent by 1945, but housing size had increased. By 1961, home ownership was less than 50 percent. In 1981, 45.3 percent of Māori dwellings were owned by their occupants. This figure compares with a home-ownership rate of around 39 percent for Pacific dwellings.

Because of changes in the classification of ethnicity the figures for Māori are only broadly comparable with Māori data from 1986 onwards.

Figure 7
Graph, Percentage of Maori dwellings and tatal dwellings owned.

Some state support for home ownership was available to Māori – they could obtain low-interest Māori Affairs loans to build their own homes (Schrader, 2013). Non-Māori had access to State Advances loans, also at low interest rates, although as Bassett & Malpass (2013) note, cheap loans to build new housing were largely phased out during the 1980s.

Disparity in home-ownership rates for Māori increases

Thorns (in Forrest, 1995) argues that by the 1970s, home ownership was becoming ethnically segregated, with a growing difference between European and Māori or Pacific people. Census data showed continuing declining home-ownership rates among Māori and Pacific people and rising home-ownership rates for the rest of the population.

By 1971, for example, the percentage of Māori dwellings that were owned by residents had fallen to 46.7 percent, compared with a rise to 68.1 percent in the proportion owned nationally (up from 61.5 percent in 1951). Rates of home ownership for Māori remained slightly higher in rural than urban areas (51.0 percent and 44.8 percent, respectively). Economists Selena and Shamubeel Equab (2015) highlight the risk that increasing housing unaffordability could lead to further inequality.

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