'They have taken us for fools': Councillor hits out over homeless motel plan

9:30 am on 25 April 2024
Rotorua Lakes Councillor Conan O'Brien.

Rotorua Lakes Councillor Conan O'Brien. Photo: Laura Smith/LDR

A Rotorua Lakes councillor says government agencies have "taken us for fools" over the city's controversial emergency housing motels.

It comes after Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MHUD) plans were revealed last week to keep contracting 10 motels to house homeless people despite election promises to end this within two years.

It said it needed time to build more houses and to stop using the motels in the meantime would significantly impact those living in them - currently about 180 households.

Rotorua mayor Tania Tapsell and Rotorua MP Todd McClay told the Rotorua Daily Post last week they had not known about the ministry's planned application for the two-year resource consent extension for 10 motels and were shocked and disappointed.

Councillor Conan O'Brien raised the issue as an urgent item at a council meeting on Wednesday.

O'Brien wanted to know what the process would be once the application was received.

"There's a lot of people saying, we need council to stand up."

O'Brien said the amount of housing "clearly isn't close to the amount needed".

"What work have we undertaken in the last few months to ensure they were in a position to close in December, which we as a council have talked about for the last six to eight months."

In his view, over the years "we have been taken to the cleaners by these agencies".

They were Kāinga Ora, MHUD, Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment and Ministry of Social Development, he said.

"Every single time, they have walked out the winners. They have taken us for fools and we have acted like it."

Council chief executive Andrew Moraes said he understood the intent was the application would be publicly notified for submissions.

Moraes said the council had a community advocacy function that may align with the community's view over the last few years.

Community and district development group manager Jean-Paul Gaston said once an application was received the council would likely appoint an external consultant to prepare a report, as it had previously.

He said the process could take about six months.

Assessments of social or economic impact may be needed.

In parallel, it would look to book independent commissions to process the application.

Rotorua mayor Tania Tapsell says a road would provide "safer" access to the planned village. Photo / Laura Smith

Rotorua mayor Tania Tapsell will meet with Rotorua MP Todd McClay on Thursday. Photo: Laura Smith/LDR

Tapsell accepted the urgent item as it was "of significant public interest".

No application had yet been received and Tapsell said she would meet with McClay about the subject on Thursday, "even though it is Anzac Day", as it was of an urgent nature.

She reiterated MHUD's plan had come as a surprise to her.

Tapsell would also send a letter to Housing Minister Chris Bishop and Associate Housing Minister Tama Potaka asking for clarity.

"It certainly does not align with the strong direction that not only this community but this council has given to end those emergency housing motels."

Given the intent to extend the contracts from the ministry and not the government, she said she would question the appropriateness of this with ministers.

Tapsell said there had been "significant progress" in reducing emergency housing motels by 60 percent.

"I appreciate there is still work to do and we will continue to do that with urgency."

She said further discussion would be held at a future Community and District Development Committee meeting.

Emergency housing motel progress

The Rotorua Daily Post reported MHUD partnerships and performance general manager Will Barris said there had been good progress since resource consents were granted for 13 contracted motels in December 2022.

Three of those were no longer in use. Non-contracted motel numbers had dropped from 34 to six.

There were also fewer households in non-contracted emergency housing motels - 48 in February down from 213 in September 2022.

He said 100 new public homes were built in Rotorua last year and by the end of 2026, a total increase of about 500 "government-enabled homes" would reduce reliance on motels.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs