Story: Māori housing – te noho whare

Page 3. Urbanisation

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New Māori migration

Attracted by work opportunities and the ‘bright lights’ of city life, rural Māori began to move to Auckland and Wellington in the 1920s. However, many faced problems finding accommodation. The reputation Māori had among Pākehā for overcrowding and taking poor care of their homes meant few landlords were prepared to have them as tenants. As attendee James Rukutoki told a Māori leaders conference in 1939, ‘the only dwellings open to the Maori are the ramshackle discards of the pakeha’.1

After the Second World War the migration of Māori to cities increased. Most settled in inner-city areas such as Freemans Bay (Auckland) and Newtown (Wellington), where rents were cheaper but houses were old and slum-like. On the positive side it led to concentrations of Māori within particular communities, allowing new migrants to live near and receive support from kin who were already urbanised. In Freemans Bay, Māori valued being close to central city entertainments and the Maori Community Centre, the hub of Māori social and cultural life in post-war Auckland.

Apartment living

Many urban Māori lived in old houses that had been subdivided into ‘apartments’. In 1951 a survey of such dwellings in Auckland reported some Māori families with four children or more had to crowd into one- or two-room apartments. Cooking was often done on a primus stove, and bathrooms or washrooms were shared with the other tenants. Few units had heating. In one instance, water had to be carried up steep and narrow stairs.

Māori hostels

The influx of rural Māori saw the creation of boys’ and girls’ hostels in the main cities for Māori youth of working age. These provided safe places to stay, facilitated friendships among tenants and offered advice on adapting to city living.

State houses

Legislation never barred Māori from accessing state rental housing. However, the perception of officials that few Māori could afford the rents and that their presence would lower the tone of state-housing areas effectively excluded them. This changed in 1944 with a scheme to create a separate pool of Māori houses to be built by the (state) Housing Division and be managed by the Department of Māori Affairs and the State Advances Corporation (SAC).

To encourage their integration into Pākehā society, Māori families would be pepper-potted or dispersed into streets of Pākehā families. (There were a few exceptions to the policy, such as at Waiwhetu in Lower Hutt, where state housing for local Māori was erected around the marae.) But between 1948 and 1954 only 97 houses were placed into the Māori pool by the Housing Division.

In the late 1950s the pool system was abolished and many needy Freeman’s Bay Māori families were re-housed in mainstream state housing in Ōtara (Auckland). From the 1960s Māori communities also developed in the state housing suburbs of Porirua (Wellington) and Aranui (Christchurch).

Home loans

Māori were also able to access low-interest Māori Affairs loans to build their own homes. Applicants had to own a section, stump up a deposit and be able to service a 25-year-term mortgage. Some Māori took advantage of the provisions and built their own homes, but others were unable to afford the costs of home ownership.


New housing for Māori paid no attention to Māori tikanga (cultural values and traditions) because of the state’s aim of assimilating Māori into Pākehā society. This meant notions of keeping noa (non-sacred or ordinary) and tapu (sacred) separate were sometimes violated, such as having a washing machine next to the kitchen sink. Many Māori nonetheless adapted their homes to allow the practice of tikanga. For instance, before the creation of urban marae, bodies were sometimes laid out in garages for tangihanga.

Accommodating relatives

The concept of manaakitanga (hospitality) means Māori may accommodate guests even when there is little room. In the early 1990s a woman told a researcher of staying in ‘a one bedroom house, it was my aunty’s and we had 16 of us living there … we turned the garage into a bedroom, my brother turned what used to be a tool shed into a bedroom, and the caravan … it was really bad there’.2

Housing shortage continues

Research in the 1980s showed most Māori wanted to own their own homes, but Māori household home ownership rates were sharply lower than for the total population – 49% compared to 73% for the total population in 1986. Factors contributing to the situation included lower incomes, higher unemployment and larger family size than the national average.

A high proportion of Māori households lived in overcrowded conditions. This was attributed to a preference for extended family living, the doubling up of families to share living costs and continued discrimination against Māori tenants by landlords. Researchers argued the existing Pākehā needs-based housing provision policy had failed Māori. What was required was a Māori-based solution to the problem.

  1. Auckland Star, 27 May 1939, p. 8. Back
  2. Maori Women’s Housing Research Project. For the sake of decent shelter. Wellington: Housing Corporation of New Zealand, 1991, p. 21. Back
How to cite this page:

Ben Schrader, 'Māori housing – te noho whare - Urbanisation', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 1 April 2023)

Story by Ben Schrader, published 5 Sep 2013