Our $4200 home

One man’s con­cept for cheap, af­ford­able hous­ing has a uniquely Kiwi flavour. Think Hob­biton with a Maori twist. Heather McCar­ron re­ports.

Sunday Star-Times - - FOCUS - Daiman Otto of Tall Wood, who of­fered Matekino an in­tern­ship

Fed up with watch­ing his baby daugh­ter get sick in their cold, mouldy rental, Ja­cob Matekino de­cided to do some­thing about it. So the steel worker de­cided to learn how to build his own af­ford­able, warm, and eco-friendly home.

Matekino took up a Bach­e­lor of Cre­ative Tech­nolo­gies course at Ro­torua’s Toi Ohomai In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, and his part­ner learned car­pen­try. To­gether they built their own home – for $4200.

His tiny house, and broader vi­sion for 21st cen­tury Maori hous­ing de­vel­op­ments, which he calls ‘‘E-WE’’, have caught the at­ten­tion of So­cial Hous­ing Min­is­ter Amy Adams, and Matekino be­lieves his idea could ease New Zealand’s hous­ing cri­sis. For Matekino, be­ing able to house his fam­ily in a home of their own rep­re­sents a ma­jor turn­around. Prior to study­ing to be­come a de­signer, life was test­ing, to say the least.

The 24-year-old’s damp rental was not only af­fect­ing his fam­ily’s phys­i­cal health, but his men­tal state was also tak­ing a bat­ter­ing.

He had so much time work off to look af­ter his part­ner and 2-yearold daugh­ter Kyra Laua­giag­iMatekino that he was fall­ing be­hind in his stud­ies.

Last win­ter, Matekino’s cir­cum­stances took a dive, and he wound up, briefly, on the street. He spent a few nights sleep­ing rough in Ro­torua’s ther­mal Kuirau Park, where the steam of­fered a bit of warmth.

‘‘We were hav­ing dra­mas at home, and I wanted to get away, but didn’t know who to turn to. I went to the street be­cause it was the eas­i­est op­tion,’’ he says.

It took an in­ter­ven­tion from his cousin to make Matekino re­alise that he was ac­tu­ally one of the for­tu­nate ones.

‘‘He took me for a ride into Auck­land, and showed me all the peo­ple who were re­ally strug­gling – it wasn’t a choice for them. I knew what I was ca­pa­ble of, and it just made me think, you know? I wanted to put my time to good use.’’

What Matekino saw is be­com­ing all too com­mon. Ac­cord­ing to a Yale Uni­ver­sity re­port, New Zealand has the high­est pro­por­tion of home­less peo­ple in the 34-mem­ber OECD, with nearly 1 per cent of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion liv­ing on the streets or in emer­gency hous­ing or shel­ters.

Spurred on by the dark re­al­ity of what he wit­nessed, Matekino con­tin­ued to learn the ba­sics of in­te­rior and spa­tial de­sign, ar­chi­tec­ture, and in­stal­la­tion – all the while bat­tling health is­sues.

Along­side his tiny house build, Matekino also had a big­ger pic­ture in mind. He en­vis­aged a con­tem­po­rary take on a tra­di­tional Maori pa, based on pa­pakainga (a form of hous­ing de­vel­op­ment for Maori on an­ces­tral land) – but with a stronger fo­cus on com­mu­nal liv­ing, af­ford­abil­ity, sus­tain­abil­ity The fact that he’d gone out and ac­tu­ally built some­thing to im­prove his life and his daugh­ter’s life and his part­ner’s life, to me that’s ev­ery­thing. and so­cial be­hav­iour. He called the con­cept E-WE.

Fast for­ward to early 2017, and the first part of Matekino’s dream be­came re­al­ity – he moved his fam­ily into their self-built, 10 square-me­tre house, on his mother’s land.

The bed­room fits the cou­ple’s bed and a cot and is par­ti­tioned off from a com­post­ing toi­let (no plumb­ing re­quired), shower and a lit­tle stove.

It has a rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing sys­tem and a grey-wa­ter tank. It’s warm, dry – and Matekino says his daugh­ter hasn’t been sick since. With help from friends, it cost him just $4200 – far cheaper, al­beit more mod­est, than many other tiny houses on the mar­ket – some of which ex­ceed $100,000.

This year, Matekino had the op­por­tu­nity to present his E-WE con­cept to a panel at a Dragon’s Den-style con­test at Toi Ohomai.

He spent about 15 min­utes re­veal­ing his vi­sion and left the judges stunned.

‘‘Their eyes were wide open, jaws dropped – they didn’t re­ally know what to say,’’ says Matekino. ‘‘They told me to take a seat while they col­lected them­selves, and put to­gether their ques­tions.’’

So what does E-WE look like? Think Hob­biton, with a Maori twist. ‘‘You’d have the lit­tle-gabled roofs, like the whare, plot­ted along the hills.’’

The homes would vary in sizes, start­ing from 10 square me­tres, and oc­cu­pants would utilise com­mu­nal fa­cil­i­ties.

Each home would have a green­house to grow veg­eta­bles all year around, and the use of so­lar pan­els would gear the com­mu­ni­ties up to be ‘‘net pos­i­tive’’ – gen­er­at­ing more power than they con­sume and putting it back into the grid.

The in­no­va­tion doesn’t stop there. The homes would be made from Hem­pcrete – one of the green­est build­ing re­sources on the planet. It’s made from a mix of hemp fi­bre, lime and wa­ter, and is ex­tremely durable.

Hem­pcrete also helps re­move car­bon from the at­mos­phere, pro­vides nat­u­ral in­su­la­tion, is fir­ere­sis­tant, and non-toxic.

While hemp crops are grown lo­cally, hemp shiv – the woody core of the plant, must be im­ported as New Zealand lacks the spe­cial­ist equip­ment for har­vest­ing and pro­cess­ing.

Matekino is con­fi­dent each tiny house could still be built for around $10,000. He cites po­ten­tial fund­ing sources as Maori Land Trusts set up through the Wai­tangi Tri­bunal and lo­cal coun­cils.

Some­one vow­ing to help get Matekino in front of those peo­ple is Daiman Otto. He’s the di­rec­tor of Tall Wood – an Auck­land-based build­ing com­pany fo­cused on af­ford­abil­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity.

Otto was part of the panel tasked with cri­tiquing the stu­dents’ pre­sen­ta­tions, and was so im­pressed with Matekino’s plan – he of­fered him an in­tern­ship. Otto knew Matekino would be a great fit for his com­pany. ‘‘The fact that he’d gone out and ac­tu­ally built some­thing to im­prove his life and his daugh­ter’s life and his part­ner’s life, to me that’s ev­ery­thing.’’

Otto’s first piece of ad­vice to Matekino was to trade­mark the name E-WE.

‘‘It’s got great brand­ing, and I think that’s what’s clever about it as well. He’s wrapped it up in this con­cept which is easy to un­der­stand. The brand – the story – is right there.’’

Otto thinks there’s a mas­sive po­ten­tial for pa­pakainga-type de­vel­op­ment across New Zealand, along with the con­cept of ‘‘self­build’’ – work­ing with a sys­tem to lit­er­ally, build your own house.

‘‘When you’re tack­ling af­ford­abil­ity, it’s not just about mak­ing build­ings cheaper. You have to look at ev­ery­thing in the chain, and chip away at ev­ery part of that.

‘‘Where Ja­cob’s com­ing from – in self-build­ing his own tiny house – it’s about tak­ing ac­tion and ac­tu­ally be­ing pro-ac­tive.’’

Otto thinks E-WE is ab­so­lutely achiev­able, point­ing out that the tiny houses in the con­cept wouldn’t even nec­es­sar­ily re­quire build­ing con­sents. If a build­ing is 10 square me­tres or less and doesn’t con­tain cook­ing or san­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties – you’re pretty much free to plonk it where you please, bar a few mi­nor tech­ni­cal­i­ties.

‘‘If you’ve got the so­cial in­fra­struc­ture and san­i­tary in­fra­struc­ture in place, then the E-WE con­cept about those in­di­vid­ual sleep­ing quar­ters be­comes some­thing that you can add on, as scale and re­quire­ments dic­tate . . . there’s noth­ing fun­da­men­tally risky about this.’’

Sim­i­lar con­cepts are ap­pear­ing over­seas. In Ed­in­burgh, a new vil­lage to help house and re­ha­bil­i­tate the home­less will be up and run­ning be­fore Christ­mas.

In New Zealand, the de­mand for so­cial hous­ing is as strong as ever. Gov­ern­ment fig­ures show that as of June 30, more than 5000 house­holds were on the wait­ing list – up 38 per cent on the same time last year.

The band aids are be­ing slapped on thick and fast, with about $140,000 a day be­ing shelled out on emer­gency ac­com­mo­da­tion such as mo­tels.

Adams agrees that part of the so­lu­tion is to re­duce the size of the houses, to get more into the mar­ket. She says she’s ‘‘in­trigued’’ by the con­cept of Matekino’s plan and would like to see what he’s worked on, first-hand.

Labour’s hous­ing spokesman. Phil Twyford, was also in­ter­ested in learn­ing more about the E-WE con­cept.

‘‘We need to be pulling out all the stops and con­sid­er­ing all pos­si­ble so­lu­tions. In­no­va­tive and clever ideas like this one are things that we should be ac­tively con­sid­er­ing in terms of as a pos­si­ble re­sponse to home­less­ness.’’

How­ever, Twyford be­lieves the big­ger im­per­a­tive is to fix the un­der­ly­ing driv­ers of what he de­scribes as an acute hous­ing cri­sis.

For now, Matekino’s com­mut­ing ev­ery fort­night to Auck­land to work with Tall Wood, while con­tin­u­ing his stud­ies in Ro­torua.

As the con­cept grows, so do Matekino’s as­pi­ra­tions. He now has his sights set on com­plet­ing a mas­ters in some form of de­sign or ar­chi­tec­ture, while get­ting E-WE off the ground.

To those who may ques­tion whether tiny house liv­ing is the an­swer to home­less­ness, Matekino is firm in his be­lief that it’s bet­ter than liv­ing in a car or un­der a bridge.

His mes­sage to those in that sit­u­a­tion is – don’t give up. ‘‘There are peo­ple out there like us who are work­ing to­wards giv­ing you a home.’’


Ja­cob Matekino’s daugh­ter Kyra is no longer fall­ing ill now that her dad has pro­vided a warm, dry home in an ini­tia­tive that might help many other fam­i­lies.

Home­less­ness in Auck­land mo­ti­vated Ja­cob Matekino to make a dif­fer­ence.

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