Tuanui - A mana-enhancing approach to healthy homes

When the Tuanui: Wainuiomata Healthy Homes for All initiative was launched in May 2021 the Steering Group had ambitions for a fivefold increase in the number of homes being repaired by its team of local tradespeople during the first two years, from 20 in the first year to 100 in the second.

Tuanui’s long-term goal is to support whānau living in the Hutt Valley suburb’s most unhealthy homes to live in warm, dry, healthy homes. A key element to achieving that goal is a home-repair programme for low-income homeowners, after which they can refer themselves to other services working under the Tuanui umbrella for their homes to be retrofitted with insulation and heating.

But the Tuanui Steering Group quickly realised that a successful home-repair programme can’t be rushed. Home-repair work is not just about fixing someone’s leaking roof or replacing their rotten floorboards. It’s also about building respectful relationships with the whānau who live in the house – and that takes time.

“It’s a big thing for whānau who are already feeling whakamā (embarrassed) about their whare (house) to open their doors and let strangers in,” says Cheryl Davies, manager of Tuanui’s lead organisation, Tū Kotahi Māori Asthma and Research Trust.

By the end of 2022 Tuanui had dialled back their target of repairing 100 homes in Year 2. Instead, they are scaling up the home-repair programme at a slower pace that respects the mana of the whānau involved.

Cheryl says they also realised that the tradespeople involved have to be a good fit for their community: “As well as being good builders, good painters and good plumbers, whānau need to feel comfortable with them coming into their homes.”

All the members of the Tuanui home repair team, which is run by well-known Kiwi actor and builder Jim Moriarty, are Wainuiomata and Hutt Valley locals with deep roots in the community.

Cheryl says they will share these valuable early findings with other organisations looking at running similar programmes. “We’re a bit of a pilot, and we hope what we learn will help other organisations run community-specific healthy homes programmes elsewhere.”

Tuanui, which means “big roof”, is a partnership between several organisations that provide healthy homes services in Wainuiomata. As well as the home-repair programme which is partly funded through Te Puni Kōkiri, these include subsidised heating and insulation retrofit work available through EECA’s Warmer Kiwi Homes programme, as well as the Well Homes Healthy Homes Initiative by Te Whatu Ora which provides services such as draught-stopping, curtains, beds and bedding. Whānau can get wrap-around wellbeing support and legal and budgeting support through the Whānau Ora programme and other initiatives.

Wainuiomata has a high proportion of cold, damp homes and some of Aotearoa’s highest rates of respiratory and other house-related illness. Many of the homes being repaired have been owned by the same whānau for several generations – the legacy of a home-building programme by the Department of Māori Affairs in the 1960s. However, they can often not afford to keep them well maintained.

Jim’s team carries out repairs such as replacing rotten weatherboards, repairing leaking roofs and sorting out drainage issues. After that the houses can be retrofitted with insulation and heating.

You can't put insulation in the roof if it's leaking, you can’t insulate a house if it’s got holes in the floor or the bathroom leaks so badly that water is falling through it,” says Cheryl.

As part of its work under the Tuanui umbrella, Well Homes engages with landlords to support renting whānau.

The Steering Group also is exploring other ways to better support whānau who rent.

In the meantime, the Wainuiomata homeowners who have already welcomed Jim and his team into their homes are delighted with the results: “This house is warm, I don’t cough as much, I don’t shake or freeze and the babies – they’re not as bad with their asthma,” said one.

The Todd Foundation is proud to support Tuanui and the Wellington Regional Healthy Homes Group, which aims to influence change – from the behaviour of private landlords to regional and national policies – so that everyone in Wainuiomata can live in a healthy home.