More units open in Te Kohekohe - Northland’s first of a kind community housing complex

Rebecca Hereora says moving into the new complex will be life-changing. Photo: RNZ / Peter de Graaf

This article was first published by RNZ.

A Northland mum living in a cold, mouldy sleepout with two young children says moving into newly built community housing will be life-changing for her whānau.

Two more stages of Te Kohekohe housing complex were opened at dawn on Monday, bringing the number of units built so far on the former Kaikohe RSA site to 47.

Once the $20-million-plus project is complete it will have 60 units of one, two and three bedrooms.

It is believed to be the biggest community housing project to date in the Far North, and the first in the country to be co-built and co-owned by an iwi and council organisation.

Te Kohekohe is the brainchild of Māori health provider Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi, which will also offer tenants wraparound health and social services, while council-owned company Far North Holdings secured the consents and provided the project management expertise.

The two organisations will jointly own the complex.

Capturing the moment, from left, Labour MP Peeni Henare, Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi chief executive Tia Ashby, Green MP Hūhana Lyndon, Far North Holdings chief executive Andy Nock, and Kāinga Ora Northland director Jeff Murray. Photo: RNZ / Peter de Graaf

Rebecca Hereora and her two youngest children, aged 6 and 7, will be among Te Kohekohe’s new tenants.

She said they had been living in a self-contained sleepout with no separate bedrooms, no privacy and no heating for the past two years.

“It has mould, you name it. We’re just another whānau within our community struggling to have a decent, warm whare for our tamariki [children].”

Despite working full-time, she could not afford anything better in the Far North’s tight rental market, where prices were only slightly below the national average - but incomes were significantly lower.

Hereora said she had been on a social housing waiting list for the past six years.

“Just to be able to cook a kai inside a whare as beautiful as these, and sit down on the carpet and say, ‘We are home’, would mean everything for me and my tamariki. Living in a clean, healthy, happy home would be an absolute relief.”

Her children were looking forward to having their own rooms, and she was hopeful they would grow up with other tamariki in a tight-knit community.

Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi chief executive Tia Ashby says she is extremely proud of the new housing complex. Photo: RNZ / Peter de Graaf

Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi chief executive Tia Ashby said she was “extremely proud” of the many hands that had turned a dream into reality.

“This means we can finally house whānau. We’ve had many on our waiting list and winter’s about to set in.”

She said it made sense for a health provider to get involved in housing, because housing was one of the biggest factors that determined people’s health.

“It was a moemoea [dream, aspiration] for our kuia, kaumātua and our iwi, to not just apply the biomedical model of health when our whānau are unwell. What we wanted to do was ensure we looked after their holistic wellbeing, which meant we needed to address the social determinants of health.”

That included making sure whānau had access to warm, dry, safe homes, and had wrap-around social service support.

“We see a lot of young children coming in with respiratory diseases, such as asthma and rheumatic heart disease. A lot of those diseases are caused by overcrowding,” she said.

“We wanted to shift away from being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and ask, ‘Why is this child coming in for an asthma inhaler?’ Often it’s because he’s going home to a cold, damp, mouldy environment - and some children don’t even have a whare to go home to.”

Council kaumātua Ted Wihongi addresses the opening ceremony. Photo: RNZ / Peter de Graaf

Stages two and three of the development, which opened on Monday, comprise 26 one-bedroom units, seven two-bedroom units and four with three bedrooms.

The 10 units of stage one opened last year.

Stage four, with another nine two-bedroom units and four three-bedroom units, was due to open in September.

Ashby said Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi’s next projects, also in Kaikohe, would be an emergency housing whare and up to 100 owner-occupied homes in a new development on Bisset Road.

Those homes would be aimed at the “working poor” - families where both parents worked, but who were still shut out of the property market by high prices.

Far North Holdings chief executive Andy Nock said the project was the biggest investment ever made in community homes in the Far North.

It could not have been achieved without the two partners playing to their respective strengths, or without funding from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.

Nock said Te Kohekohe would help address, albeit in a small way, the district’s chronic shortfall of housing.

Isaiah Apiata blesses one of the units at the Kaikohe housing complex Te Kohekohe. Photo: RNZ / Peter de Graaf

Far North mayor Moko Tepania said he took his hat off to Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi for working with the council and Far North Holdings.

“One of the things I love about this development is that it’s right in the town centre so all of the amenities of Kaikohe - shops, banks, schools, supermarkets, health centres and social services - are all within walking distance. That’s fantastic for the people who will call these units at Te Kohekohe home,” he said.

Jay Hepi, pou of strategy and growth at Te Hau Ora o Ngāpuhi, said he would be the on-site kaitiaki [guardian] for the complex.

He would ensure everyone who moved in got to know their neighbours, communicated with each other, and helped make it a “nurturing, loving place”.

“We’ll have wrap-around health, social and employment support, to make sure it doesn’t go downhill with social issues,” Hepi said.

By Peter de Graaf of RNZ.