13 May 2021

Emergency housing: Move to end 'mixed-use' motels practice in Rotorua

2:42 pm on 13 May 2021

The government is moving to clean up the problems with emergency housing in Rotorua, in response to reports of crime and unsafe living conditions.

Signs paperwork

Housing Minister Megan Woods. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

It will directly contract motels for emergency accommodation in the city for group families and children together in particular motels, and provide social support services.

RNZ has reported stories nationwide of families living in motels overrun with crime and violence, and taxpayers paying out millions of dollars for accommodation that is often substandard.

Housing Minister Megan Woods says a government task force has been working with the Rotorua Lakes District Council and Te Arawa iwi "to provide better support and outcomes for people living in emergency housing motels and the community".

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MHUD) will take over responsibility for contracting motels used for emergency housing, and ending the practice of "mixed-use" motels. It already administers a similar system for transitional housing.

"These moves will ensure whānau and tamariki are placed in accommodation with facilities more suited to their needs with support to keep them safe and well, and provide a pathway to more permanent housing," Woods said.

"These actions also help bring certainty to the Rotorua accommodation sector by having motels used exclusively for emergency housing, and help ensure there are suitable accommodation facilities for domestic and international visitors."

The government did not see motels as "a long-term answer", she said, but it needed to "deal with the immediate crisis we inherited while we build the medium to long term solutions by increasing housing supply".

MHUD and Kāinga Ora are assessing which of the current motels being used for emergency housing in Rotorua have facilities suitable for emergency housing for whānau and tamariki.

MHUD is talking to "suitable motels" this week about contracts for emergency housing, Woods said.

Rotorua Lakes District Council has also agreed to facilitate a temporary change in consenting to permit longer-term stays for motels assessed as suitable for emergency housing; that will take "several weeks to assess and engage all motels".

The Ministry of Social Development and MHUD are working with Te Arawa and service providers to establish a housing hub, including contracting for wrap-around support services for whanau and tamariki in motels, Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said.

"Once established it will be community-led, and will provide a place where people needing emergency housing can also have their holistic care needs assessed and addressed, with placements triaged into appropriate accommodation," she said.

Mayor Steve Chadwick said government intervention was a good start until more housing could be built in Rotorua.

"That doesn't happen overnight and we've got to manage these numbers right now. Tourism operators will be saying 'thank goodness, we're not going to have motels that are contracted for social housing placement as well as for our visitor population, that will stop'."

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