Second World War
According to the 1936 census only 10% of the Maori population was urban. Within a few decades the number would rise to over 80%. This massive shift was sparked by the Second World War. The Manpower Act was used to direct young Māori men who were ineligible for the military to work in essential industries, often located in cities. Young Māori women were directed to work in factories in town. The Māori Affairs Department appointed six Māori welfare officers to assist young women away from home.
Migration following the war
By 1945, just over 25% of the Māori population was now urban. However the number of Māori living in cities was still very low relative to total city populations. The Māori population of Wellington was less than 1% of the total population, and in Auckland it was 2%.
Following the war Māori migration to cities increased. Returned Māori servicemen migrated to urban areas to utilise skills acquired during the war. Some entered teacher training, joining those who had entered under a Māori quota before the war. By the mid-1950s the urban Māori population had grown to 35%. By the end of the decade over half of the Māori population was urban.
In 1960 the Department of Maori Affairs encouraged this demographic shift with an urban relocation programme. Māori welfare officers exhorted rural families to leave the subsistence economy of gardening and fishing, finding them employment and accommodation in urban centres.
Over a five-year period the department relocated 399 families. It also assisted 485 families who moved of their own accord. By 1966 the urban Māori population had increased to 62% and by 1990 it had reached over 80%.
It was often difficult for Māori to find housing in the cities. Māori hostels were run in the cities to cater for young Māori coming to work. At first Māori tended to live in inner-city locations because they were close to where unskilled work was found – on the wharves, in factories and in the transport industry.
In Auckland the Māori Women’s Welfare League worked with Māori Affairs welfare officers to ensure Māori had access to adequate housing. The government approach to Māori housing was called ‘pepper-potting’, dotting Māori families in predominantly Pākehā communities.
The number of Māori moving to cities meant housing needed to be addressed on a larger scale. Housing subdivisions built in the 1960s at Ōtara, Māngere and Te Atatū in Auckland, and Porirua, the Hutt Valley and Wainuiomata in Wellington had many Māori residents.