National | Homeless

Website exposes Rotorua emergency housing locations

Mayoral candidates say a decision by Rotorua’s tourism board to create a website exposing emergency housing locations to tourists is "maybe not ideal" but "necessary".

Launched by Rotorua NZ, formerly known as Rotorua Economic Development and Destination Rotorua, the website shows tourists which motels refuse emergency housing, are considered mixed use, or are designated as emergency housing.

Rotorua NZ says it created the site in response to public demand. It shows pricing, star ratings and predicts occupancy for the upcoming tourist season, alongside the emergency data.

"We want visitors to have the best possible experience in Rotorua and believe mixed-use motels do not deliver this," Rotorua NZ research and insights manager Justin Kimberley said.

Visitors had been "caught out", finding themselves in accommodation that was unsafe for families, Kimberly argued.

"We wanted to give potential visitors the ability to find out which accommodation providers were visitor accommodation only and which were emergency housing.”

Stigma attached

Rotorua’s Māori mayoral candidates have signalled support for the programme but cautioned it was a response to government policy of increased emergency housing placements in the region.

"It is necessary because some visitors have had bad experiences staying in mixed-use motels," councillor and social justice campaigner Merepeka Raukawa-Tait told TeAoMā

Raukawa-Tait conceded there could be stigma attached to the emergency venues, and that further concentration of emergency tenants could see things deteriorate further, but that council had few options.

“At least this way they can make an informed choice about which motel is best for them.”

Former NZ First MP and mayoral candidate Fletcher Tabuteau was less diplomatic in his tone, arguing the prevalence of those needing addiction and mental health support, meant they should not be candidates for motel accommodation.

"We need to send people home, back to their whānau and support networks… They should not be there. It is destructive to the individual and destructive to the community," Tabuteau said.

Want to feel safe

“The use of motels for temporary or emergency housing has been a bloody disaster for Rotorua,” Raukawa-Tait said.

Fellow Rotorua Lakes District councillor and mayoral candidate Tania Tapsell said the website was partly needed because some motel operators weren’t honest about their emergency housing status, prior to bookings.

“We have had visitors turn up to a motel who say that they don't have emergency housing and it's going to be visitor accommodation … And actually, there are people there who are long term, not short-term residents.”

Tapsell said council crime statistics around emergency housing motels were stark and she hoped the new platform would provide transparency.

“The crime rates around these emergency housing [locations], the evidence is there and I think if you look at the issues that we have had, there is a right for people to want to feel safe.”

Poor reviews

Reviews of mixed-use motels on Expedia and allege "terrible" and "nightmare" experiences with drug users, and middle-of-the-night police callouts.

One review claimed a man abseiled down a curtain on to a visitor’s patio, from the unit above.

Incumbent mayor Steve Chadwick said last week she had "very positive" meetings in Wellington with two ministers about the issues and said there had been a ‘recent’ drop of about 10 percent in the total number of people in emergency housing in Rotorua.

All mayoral candidates have stood on platforms of applying additional pressure to central government to reduce the quantity of emergency housing in the region.

“The important thing is we want that transparency because Rotorua is still a great place to visit, and people can make that decision on where they want to stay using this dashboard,” Tapsell said.

Public Interest Journalism