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Lessons from Māori Housing

When creating innovative housing governance policies, it is helpful to learn from other Indigenous communities and Nations. The Māori context in Aotearoa (New Zealand) is especially interesting, since the New Zealand and Māori governments are a few decades ahead of British Columbia in finding solutions for innovative housing governance strategies. That said, Māori still face many challenges. Culturally relevant housing that it is economically and environmentally sustainable is an ongoing process of reconciliation in Aotearoa.

This module gives an overview of philosophies and programs within the Māori Housing framework (Te Puni Kōkiri), with the intention that some of these concepts may be applicable for First Nations in BC. This is one module within a broader toolkit intended to facilitate the goals and projects of First Nations related to housing and homelands governance. Each module can be used individually, in connection with other supporting modules, or in conjunction with the toolkit as a whole-system approach.


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In Aotearoa, housing governance used to be like the colonial Canadian system. Essentially, the Crown told Māori communities what to do and provided funding accordingly. After several decades of realizing that this was not an effective system, they created a new collaborative governance structure.

Now, ideas are driven by Māori communities for Māori communities, with support and “checks and balances” from the New Zealand government, which in turn is held accountable by the National Iwi Leaders Group (“iwi” meaning tribal group or Peoples). And the New Zealand government now has two ministries – Crown and Iwi. This creates a circular structure of accountability between both government systems, without one being “in charge” of the other. Though there is more equality with this new system, there are new challenges relating to due diligence and transparent yet efficient communication between the many governments.

Māori Housing works within a housing continuum, with a goal of moving people safely along the continuum as far as they want to go – from homeless to renting to landlords.


Māori Housing works within a Whanau-Whenua-Whare (or Family-Land-House) governance model (pronounced fah-now, fen-ua, far-ay).

The first stage is whanau (or family). This stage deals with who is going to live on the land. For example, will it be intergenerational or only for elders? Will it be owned by families, or rented by families but owned by family land-owning groups (similar to Bands)? This stage is often the longest and most challenging stage, as it requires time, meetings, and transparent communication. However, it doesn’t cost anything financially. This stage needs to be completed before land-owning groups can apply for funding, since the Iwi and Crown Ministers want to see groups organize amongst themselves and take stewardship over a project that they will then pitch.

Once everyone is on the same page regarding who will be using the land, the project moves to the second stage – whenua (or land). It is in this stage that there are considerable costs, including at times lawyers to work on issues relating to land-zoning, consent, and land rights. It is in this stage that land-owning groups provide governance training for families (or people owning/possessing “land lots”), including practical training – for example, “how to be a landlord.”

The third and final stage is whare (or housing). Only when the first two stages are clarified is it time to design and build the houses. While this stage also involves financial investment, it is often the shortest of the three stages.


Housing departments

Papakainga Housing is a department focused on building small-scale intentional Indigenous communities by Māori, for Māori, on Māori land. Papakainga Housing specifically focuses on Whakapapa (pronounced faka-papa), which is family land that is handed down through generations and cannot be sold. While Whakapapa is more protected than general title land (which anyone can own and sell), it is more restricted because it is hard to receive bank loans and have stricter zoning requirements. Projects and policies within Papakainga Housing encourage mixing of older and younger generations, and are structured collectively (not individually).

Another department prioritizes larger projects, where Iwi build 150 houses at a time. The projects often begin with start-up capital from the Ministry of Housing, and then Iwi build and own the houses. Gradually, each family pays off their house, using a 0% income loan from Iwi, and with no more than 30% of their income going to their housing payments. This structure is similar to Band-managed rent-to-own projects (with rent geared to income) here in BC. The funds from families’ house payments then circulate back into the Iwi (similar to a First Nations Band) to then build more houses. To keep it viable after the start-up capital, the Iwi builds 10 houses per year. If families struggle to pay rent or mortgage, there are funds available to offset costs and support them in doing so.

This diagram shows the general funding-building-ownership structure of some larger Iwi housing projects.

This model is one that some Bands have attempted in BC; however, it can be challenging to successfully implement. Two of the main challenges for First Nations in BC are a) that families struggle to pay rent back to the Band, due to insufficient income sources within their reserve lands, and b) that Bands struggle to reinvest these house payments back into new housing construction. The latter can be solved by reserving dedicated revolving housing funds within the Band (see the Finance module) and by working upfront to set up an organized housing governance structure (see Governance module) — much like in the Whanau-Whenua-Whare model used in New Zealand.

Funding and support

Because of difficulties in obtaining loans for Whakapapa (Māori title land), the Ministry of Housing supports Iwi with grants. These grants prioritize creating a base for members of families who belong to that land, maintaining connection to the land, and allowing Marae (collective traditional meeting houses) to be constructed and maintained on the land.

Many projects begin with a 75% (Ministry) and 25% (Land-owning trust) split of start-up capital. There are several grants (~$100,000 each) and other types of in-kind support that are reserved for training and capacity regarding technical needs, such as modeling, applying for bank loans, assistance with architects and surveyors, and advice to set up a viable business model.

Māori housing uses the New Zealand Government’s Living Standards Framework to assess all of its projects. This framework evaluates cultural, social, and environmental benefits of projects, and prioritizes non-tangible benefits such as cultural elements, language, and traditional livelihoods and practices in its project reviews.  While standardized frameworks of this nature are vital to ensure accountability and responsive policy at upper levels of government, where feasible it may be effective for communities to establish their own evaluative indicators to ensure that local values are being advanced. (See the Yuneŝit’in First Nation Project Monitoring & Evaluation Tool for an example of one such community-based framework.)


There are hundreds of land-owning groups across New Zealand and over 100 Iwi (tribes). To learn from one another, a biennial National Māori Housing Conference is held. During this three-day event, there are workshops and fieldtrips, to share case studies, challenges, and innovations. On the final day, Iwi can visit different sites across the country to see projects in different stages, to see what is possible. In the last National Māori Housing Conference, there was a caravan of 3 busses and 4 minivans of Māori community members visiting different Iwi housing projects across the country.

For more information

To learn more, view Te Puni Kōkiri’s Papakainga Housing Toolkit or visit their website.

Thank you to Shirley McLeod of Te Puni Kōkiri, Māori Housing, for providing helpful information and resources related to this module.


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