Rotorua emergency housing motels positive experience for many - government-commissioned report

1:38 pm on 25 March 2023

By Laura Smith for Local Democracy Reporting

Rotorua's Fenton Street, where there are several contracted emergency motels.

Rotorua's Fenton Street, where there are several contracted emergency motels. Photo: LDR / Andrew Warner

A government-commissioned evaluation into its pilot homelessness solution in Rotorua claims the majority of residents in contracted motels had a positive experience.

This follows a Human Rights Commission report last year that investigated flaws of the emergency housing system and found three key breaches of the right to a decent home.

While many Rotorua emergency housing providers are not contracted by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MHUD), 13 are.

Released on Thursday, the report was commissioned by MHUD and prepared by researchers at Te Paetawhiti Ltd & Associates.

The ministry issued a press release as the evaluation was released, saying it had found most respondents were positive about their experiences and it provided their whānau with respite from a range of challenges and trauma they were experiencing in their lives, including homelessness.

The ministry's deputy chief executive Ben Dalton said whānau who participated were largely positive and told the evaluators that the opportunity for secure accommodation provided their whānau with the time and space to settle and stabilise.

"The wrap-around support helped whānau to reorientate themselves and plan towards a positive future, including finding a place they could call home.

"This support is helping whānau rediscover their confidence both to aim for and to achieve some of their aspirations."

The report said that in 2020, then-mayor Steve Chadwick called on the central government to help Rotorua to develop solutions to the housing crisis, and one intervention piloted was the use of motels as emergency housing with attached 24/7 security services and wrap-around pastoral support.

The report was commissioned last June to evaluate the experience of whānau living in contracted emergency housing in Rotorua, and the findings would inform decisions on emergency housing models in other parts of the country, as well as emergency housing policy.

A total of 91 whānau contributed to the evaluation, representing 115 adults, 154 children and 35 stakeholders. Eighty people responded to its survey, which was a 42 per cent response rate. Background documentation was also used.

The evaluation concluded the contracted accommodation created a safe, secure and empowering environment, but not for everyone given constraints such as rules, space and amenities. It said it was not suited for long-term living.

One recommendation was that whānau should have the opportunity to provide regular feedback, and another was the Rotorua Housing Taskforce be reconvened with clear leadership including roles and responsibilities.

The taskforce was convened in March 2021 in response to the growing housing issue. It consisted of iwi representatives, Rotorua Lakes Council and central government.

A comprehensive evaluation was planned for late 2023.

As of 5 October 2022, a total of 221 of the 297 contracted units in Rotorua were occupied. Of these, 168 units were occupied by 203 parents and 288 children, five were occupied by couples, and a further 29 accommodated singles.

The report included an interview with 11 whānau and, among their responses, it said all spoken to felt contracted emergency housing was a safer, more secure option for their children than living in unsecured facilities.

It found all whānau felt the amenities in their rooms were reasonable given the circumstances, but freezers, ovens and laundry facilities were the main things they want to be improved.

Responding to the report, Rotorua MP Todd McClay, National Party, was pleased that people who were in distressing situations found the motels better than where they were, but said that was not surprising.

"We continue to hear a lot of reports of harassment and gang involvement in many of the contracted and non-contracted motels.

"And that is deeply disturbing and needs to be looked into urgently."

In his opinion, the report was a way to justify the government's use of the city in the pilot.

"They should be focusing on the outcome for these people from now on which is their promise of housing and they must announce a date when they will stop using motels."

He said the length of stay reported in the evaluation was troubling, with more than 20 per cent there for more than a year.

"It's not good for them or their kids."

About 25 percent of survey respondents reported having lived in their motel room for fewer than three months.

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and office of the Minister for Housing were approached for comment in response to McClay.

The Human Rights Commission and Rotorua mayor Tania Tapsell were approached for comment on the report.

The continued use of the motels as emergency housing was the subject of a consent hearing last October, as under the district plan they could only be used for short-term stays.

Some submitters called the use of motels experimental and others did not know the motels they owned were used for emergency housing.

An emergency housing resident told commissioners overseeing the hearing that rules, such as no visitors allowed, had been put in place which made his situation more stressful.

Consent for continued use was approved for two years, with conditions.

- Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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