Ricky Houghton is a man on mission. As CEO of He Korowai Trust in Kaitaia, Ricky is committed to improving the quality of life for Māori families in the Far North region. Developing Tino Rangatiratanga is their mission statement.
Housing conditions are at the top of the priority list with many families living in third-world conditions. In some homes, there is no running water, no insulation and no sewage systems.
He Korowai Trust is chaired by the Naida Glavish, and its trustees include the former Labour MP Shane Jones. He Korowai offers budgeting and family counselling, and has been instrumental in assisting families at risk of losing their homes from mortgagee sales.
But the Trust’s first priority is Māori housing, realised in its major project Whare Ora - a radical home ownership scheme for families desperate to move on to healthier living conditions, but with limited means of doing so.
He Korowai has borrowed heavily to buy land on the outskirts of Kaitaia and with an equal amount in government funding it has set up a self-supporting papa kainga that could eventually house dozens of families.
To qualify for a house, the family must comply with the trust’s rules: no violence, no drugs and no alcohol. For under $200 a week, meat, milk, fruit and veges from the trust land are included in the rent, and after 15 years the family will own the house.
"At the end of the day these families they fill me with hope, they fill me with excitement, what you are going to see here is 17 adults and forty three kids running around here, they'll have their own rooms, they'll have their own homes. I'm just so excited for them" - Ricky Houghton on Whare Ora
The homes are old state houses from Glen Innes in Auckland refurbished for Far North families.
The project has not been without controversy. The Mana Party leader Hone Harawira was one of those arrested at protests in Glen Innes as heart-broken families resisted eviction from homes that have been in their families, in some cases, for generations.
Ricky Houghton says he feels for those families, but he takes a pragmatic view. He concludes that the homes were going to be demolished no matter how much people protested, and they are needed in the Far North.
"If you were to look at Te Hapua, it is 103 kilometres one way north of Kaitaia. One of the reasons why we selected Te Hapua was because it is a very deprived and neglected community and it's long overdue to have their fair share of opportunity" - Ricky Houghton
He Korowai work includes renovating condemned houses into healthy homes in Te Hapua. The organisation will team up with Māori GP Lance O’Sullivan and the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment. The plan will show how home improvements can also improve health.
Ricky knows first-hand what is needed to improve the quality of live for māori in the Far North, but his own life could have turned out much differently.
Ricky’s mother was ostracised by her family after she refused an arranged marriage after she fell in love with an English sailor in Auckland. It wasn’t until she died in the 1990s that her family took her back to her home.
Ricky was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young teenager when he started hanging out with much older boys and living on the streets.
At 14 years old he met his girlfriend, and within the year he became a young dad. He is still with his wife today. A father at 14, he grew up fast, worked hard and owned his first home when he was 17 years old.
Today, the couple are based in Auckland but Ricky credits his wife with allowing him to leave their home every week to travel to Kaitaia for work.
Over the years, Ricky has gained diplomas in management and directorship, But for the last 15 years, he’s been manager of He Korowai Trust. He admits that It’s more of a vocation than a job.
He’s a man who somehow managed to climb out of the hole he found himself in as a boy and his mission in life is to give others a hand up.