Māori homelessness a Crown-Treaty failure

Māori homelessness

Ignoring Māori homelessness and failing to implement effective Māori housing policies is a Crown breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, says the Waitangi Tribunal.

The Tribunal says the first stage of its inquiry into the Crown’s housing policy and services from 2009 to 2021 is now complete.

It found the Crown’s actions breached Te Tiriti (the Treaty) – particularly its principles of active protection, equity and good government.

As an example, the Crown formulated a definition of homelessness in 2009 without adequately consulting Māori. Nor did it take any action to address the rising Māori homelessness levels. In fact, seven years of inaction over rising Māori homelessness followed.

The Tribunal also found the Crown developed a Māori housing strategy but did not implement it. Furthermore, it tightened access to the social housing register despite Māori reliance on social housing.

During this part of the inquiry the Tribunal heard claimants in 79 claims. Witnesses appeared for the Crown from five separate agencies. Claimants called technical witnesses, but no research was commissioned.

Crown failures

The Crown sought to reduce its provision of social housing from 2010. It opted to transfer more responsibility to community housing providers, the inquiry found.

While state house numbers declined, community housing providers weren’t filling the gaps.

“This shortfall took place just as housing affordability began to severely worsen,” the tribunal report says.

After being forced to recognise the housing crisis in 2016, the Crown attempted to combat Māori homelessness.

The Tribunal says it’s unable to measure if these attempts were Treaty-compliant as many were introduced just before or during its inquiry.

At the same time, the Tribunal found the Crown continued to breach the Treaty in various ways through its:

narrow consultation about its new strategies,

ongoing failure to collect thorough homelessness data,

shortcomings in inter-agency coordination,

continued failure to reform the welfare system to improve outcomes for Māori,

lack of support for homeless rangatahi.

Tribunal concerns

The Crown has a Treaty obligation to protect rangatiratanga over kāinga, the Tribunal says.

However, it notes traditional kāinga barely exist today because of colonisation and urbanisation.

In the circumstances, the Crown’s starting point is to provide suitable housing for homeless Māori. That is because it is the immediate need, the Tribunal says.

It recommends urging the Crown to work in partnership with claimants on a definition of homelessness that incorporated Māori perspectives.

It did not identify solutions to the homelessness problem. “This is a matter for a future report following a broader investigation into homelessness and its underlying causes,” the Tribunal says.

Although the Tribunal deferred findings on issues concerning housing on rural Māori land, it is concerned about living conditions.

Many Māori who had returned to live on their whenua are living in appalling conditions which should be unacceptable in 21st century New Zealand, the Tribunal says.

Where to from here

The Housing Policy and Services inquiry will move into the main part of its hearing programme in 2024.


Additional reading

News category: New Zealand.

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