It’s an overcast, mid-August day in the Waikato and Sally Waikai has popped in to check out progress on the building of hers and husband Te Punakai Waikai’s whare in Taupiri. In the kitchen she turns on a tap and water comes out.
“Cool! We have water! Maybe we can move in on the weekend,” she says hopefully.
The house build is nearing completion – carpets are laid, kitchen and bathroom fittings are all completed, the painting is done, the house is ready for occupation. Outside, the whir of machine saws, and the report of hammer guns punctuate the air denoting the remaining presence of builders as they put the finishing touches on the decking.
The build has piqued the interest of locals, as a few of the whānau drop in and ask Sally if they can have a look inside the house, all the while asking her questions about the building process.
“Yeah it hasn’t been a smooth journey getting to this point. We’ve learnt so much. I’m glad we only have to do this once, and I am happy to share our story so more of our people can see it is possible to build on Māori land – it just takes perseverance.”
Sally was born in Invercargill, although her father is from Gordonton and the whānau moved back to the Waikato in 2000. She did her secondary schooling at Te Wharekura o Rākaumangamanga in Huntly and that’s where she met Te Punakai.
“We’ve been together since school finished. That was 11 years ago. We have three kids now.”
Like all young couples they dreamed of buying and owning their own home and began saving.
“And then prices went through the roof and it felt like it was going to be impossible to buy a home,” she says.
An initial discussion was had with parents about putting their homes up as collateral for Sally and Te Punakai.
“But I’m really independent and I didn’t want to do that.”
This determined streak of Sally’s meant their aspiration for home ownership would falter at this point, however, it would certainly come in handy later on in their journey.
In 2016, a chance encounter between Te Punakai and Te Puni Kōkiri Senior Advisor, Pat Nathan at a garage in Huntly would trigger discussions about papakāinga funding provided through the Māori Housing Network.
Pat encouraged them to attend one of the Papakāinga workshops run by Te Puni Kōkiri with support and contributions from Waikato-Tainui, Housing New Zealand and the Waikato Regional Council.
Following their attendance at the workshop, new housing possibilities began to formulate and the young couple were hopeful once more about owning a home.
Re-establishing the Trust
The first thing they had to do was find some land. So, not surprisingly a hui was held at Te Punakai’s Nan’s house, just across the road from where their new whare now stands.
It was discovered that the block that Sally and Te Punakai liked was being leased to a local farmer to graze cattle – and he was paying very little for the privilege.
“It had been leased that way for years and years, all on a gentleman’s handshake.”
“To build there we had to get a licence to occupy and we had to get that from the Komakorau 384 Ahuwhenua Trust – the body that governs the land and makes the decisions on how the land is used.”
The problem was that three of the four trustees had passed away – only one was remaining.
“So our first hurdle was to re-establish the Trust and get new trustees elected. Pat from Te Puni Kōkiri helped us out by putting us in touch with an advisor from the Māori Land Court, who guided us in terms of that process.”
Sally had to organise a special meeting of the owners / beneficiaries and prepare information for the hui. She had to organise meeting advertisements for local papers and on social media. She even contacted whānau directly by phone!
“I had to collate the filled out Remove and Replace Trustees, Licence to Occupy and Trust Deed templates and get them all filed with the Māori Land Court!”
A few months later, they finally got their licence to occupy, and were ready for the next step – securing a home loan!
With a location sorted for their new whare, the focus moved to financing the build, finding a builder and working with the Waikato Regional Council through the consenting process.
It was over a year before the turning of the sod.
Sally and Te Punakai had already put away considerable savings towards their home. But banks don’t loan for new home builds on Māori land. So their only option was to apply for a Kāinga Whenua loan offered by Kiwibank.
“The pre-approval process is demanding. The lending criteria is very strict and is more involved than what is required for a normal mortgage.”
Only 26 homes have been built through the loan scheme which has been in place for a number of years.
They made their first application in February 2017 and were declined.
“We were stood down for six months, mandatory, we could not re-apply any sooner than that.”
When they re-applied they were successful although they were still subject to some scrutiny post approval, having to explain activity on their accounts on quite a few occasions.
As uncomfortable as that experience was for them both, by that point they were prepared to weather just about anything if it meant getting closer to building their home.
“Sometimes setbacks put you off and you give up. It might seem strange but the more we got knocked back, the more determined we became. We just kept thinking about our tamariki – we’re doing this for them so they can have a better future. That always kept us focussed on our goal”
Te Puni Kōkiri, via the Māori Housing Network chipped in a bit of putea to help out with infrastructure costs - which included connecting the section to services like water, power and installing septic tanks - and by October 2017 they were ready to lodge their application for building consent with the Waikato Regional Council.
“The consent process is a minefield. You always get a letter back with conditions and there’s always something else you’ve gotta pay for.”
The couple had to go back to the bank for an extra $20,000 to cover a fee associated with the flood plain – that was the first obstacle.
“Then just before Christmas we were asked to pay $10,000 as a “re-development fee.” Even now I’m not sure what that actually pays for. The only explanation I was given about why it was necessary was ‘you’re re-developing the land – that’s what this fee is for’.”
“We actually didn’t have that money at the time, and the bank would not give us anymore.”
They managed to save money on the infrastructure build by connecting to a town water supply and not having to install water tanks. Te Puni Kōkiri agreed to re-direct that savings to the re-development fee.
“If we didn’t pay it, before Christmas, we would not have been able to build, period.”
It was a stressful time for the belaboured couple, and Sally was pregnant with their third child too. Still at least now they could start finding a builder.
“Aubrey Te Kanawa from Te Puni Kōkiri recommended three different builders to us and we ended up choosing Kiwi Design from here in the Waikato. They had done a papakāinga build in Tauranga, and also offered the best value for money so we just picked the biggest house on their plans.”
Not surprisingly, working with the builders was an easier process. It’s the rewarding part of the whole journey. And they could finally shoo the cows off the section.
Building commenced, finally, in March 2018 and Sally and Te Punakai welcomed their latest addition to the whānau the following June. Even so, Sally had preeclampsia and spent the last month of her pregnancy in hospital on enforced bed rest.
“If we can do it, anyone can, you’ve just got to want it more than anything and be prepared to do whatever it takes. When we were living with our parents, saving money, not socialising as much as we use to and making all those sacrifices, yeah, it was hard.”
“But now that we’re in the house - the whole experience has shown us how resilient we are. The future holds a lot of promise for us and our babies, and we’re excited about it! This is us. We’re in it for life!”
Blessing of the whare
Sally and Te Punakai moved in to their whare in August 2018 and a formal blessing was held at the end of that month.
It was a chance for Sally and Te Punakai to acknowledge all those who had supported and helped them over the last three years.
Minister for Māori Development, Nanaia Mahuta managed to catch the tail end of proceedings and congratulated the couple on their build, saying, “if you can do it Te Punakai, anyone can!”
Watch the video on the Waikai whānau below