Ngarangi had her hands full raising five moko (grandchildren) when disaster struck. The whānau were at a wedding when she received a call to say her home in Mt Wellington was on fire.

Dashing home, her heart pounding, Ngarangi’s worst fears were realised when she arrived: the house was destroyed. Still, she felt a small sense of comfort knowing the house was insured.

But later that night, she received the terrible news that her insurance policy had lapsed five weeks earlier. Distracted by sole care of her moko and her work as a cleaner, she had overlooked the policy renewal date.

“There are no words to express how it feels to watch 60 years of your life go up in smoke. I grew up in that house with my parents and three sisters, then it had become home for me and my moko. Suddenly we had nothing except the clothes we were wearing. Where were we going to go? I didn’t have enough money to start all over.”

In the immediate aftermath of the fire, now known to have been caused by an electrical fault, Ngarangi and the children received huge support from neighbours, many of whom she’d known for decades. That night, they stayed in a neighbour’s sleepout.

“When we woke up next morning, there was a pile of donations at the gate – clothes, blankets and food. The local shopkeeper invited me to choose whatever I needed at no cost. I just cried. I’m not a taker, I’m usually the one giving so it was overwhelming.”

A storage container was delivered and very soon it was full of furniture and household goods donated by well-wishers, ready for when Ngarangi had a new home. In the meantime, she and the children, ages seven to 17, moved into a self-contained garage on her cousins’ property.

Buoyed by support from locals and also her employers, who donated new beds and a lounge suite, Ngarangi devoted herself to house-hunting.

Emergency housing was offered but because pets were not permitted, it would have meant rehoming their treasured dog, Hunter. Ngarangi felt the children could not cope with any more loss. Their brother, Amulek had died at 10 when he succumbed to a hereditary illness and of course they’d just lost their home and belongings.

During the next few months, Ngarangi searched for a private rental to no avail. Then came the call that would change their lives: a Kāinga Ora house had become available, a newly refurbished house in Papakura with five bedrooms and a fenced backyard.

“It was a huge relief,” remembers Ngarangi. “It was a chance to start over, to put some bad memories behind us.”

The first few months in their new home were dizzying as the children settled into new schools and the whānau familiarised themselves with their neighbourhood. Now, says Ngarangi, it’s home.

“Knowing the house is permanent helps us feel settled. It’s home and the kids love it. These days I have contents insurance, car insurance and funeral insurance. I’m determined to provide for my grandchildren.

“I honestly don’t know where we would be if it wasn’t for Kāinga Ora. I used to wonder how people ended up in public housing and now I’m one of them and I couldn’t be more grateful. We’ve got a safe home, and we can get on with living.”

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Page updated: 14 November 2023