Being Māori is not a limitation to becoming a homeowner - Otago University study

By Jessica Tyson

Being Māori has nothing to do with whether or not you can own a house, according to new research from the University of Otago, Christchurch that debunks the myth that culture is tied to homeownership. 

Assistant research fellow, Grace Walker, of Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāruahine, says the research shows that homeownership is about one's personal situation and life choices.

“The most important finding from this paper is showing that it is not anything to do with us being Māori,” she says.

“Irrespective of your upbringing, if you are driven to be a homeowner and you have the support of your parents to be ambitious and strive to achieve your goals, you will have more chance of becoming a homeowner, regardless of how Māori you view yourself, or how connected you are to your culture…It’s understanding we're not the problem and that we can be a part of the solutions as well.”

Walker and co-author Dr Jay Whitehead found five key characteristics that helped differentiate between those who rented at 35 years old and those who owned a home. The results of that study have been published in the New Zealand Population Review journal this week.

“As part of the research, they looked into people’s connection to their whenua, whakapapa and whānau, as well as their ability to speak te reo Māori and engage with their Māori culture, she says.

“It should be unsurprising to us that none of that has anything to do with whether you own a home or not. It's more related to the components of your economic position, the life choices that you have, and the support by your parents and your caregivers when you're younger to try and aspire to achieve more educational and employment aspirations for your future.”

Decline in homeownership for Māori

The research comes on the back of long-term declines in homeownership for Māori. When examining rates of individual homeownership, Walker says between 2001 and 2013 there was a steeper decline in rates of Māori homeownership (decrease from 31.7 to 28.2 per cent) compared to European homeownership (decrease from 59.7 to 56.8 percent).

“Essentially, if you look at the historical component, you can see that we once upon a time dominated Māori homeownership statistics. It was through the process of urbanisation, different policies like the town and country planning act and moving us into the cities, less education, less employment. It just essentially all cascaded into lower homeownership rates for Māori.”

Walker says the greater decline in Māori home ownership highlights the need to understand Māori specific factors throughout the life course that are likely to increase homeownership, and potential policies that can reflect these.

“It’s not necessarily looking at the ways in which we cannot achieve homeownership, but rather the pathways and what is possible...There’s the demand of those of us who want to go and live back on the whenua and potentially live in papakāinga versus needing to stay in the cities where houses are more expensive, but also where our jobs are.”

This research is the first of three pieces exploring Māori in homeownership using data collected by the Christchurch Health and Development Study. The next piece of research will explore Māori and non-Māori homeownership by age 40, where further longitudinal lessons will be analysed.

“Essentially, what we want to look at is policy from government, the ways in which policy has been developed with iwi and individual personal pathways. So it's not just one factor that contributes to homeownership, it's multifaceted and that's what we're all trying to understand is all the different ways Māori can get into homeownership.”