Politics | Rotorua

‘Blindsided and betrayed’: Bid for two more years of Rotorua homeless motels shocks

Rotorua residents say they feel “blindsided and betrayed” by a bid to keep contracting 10 motels to house homeless people despite election promises to end this within two years.

The city’s mayor Tania Tapsell and National MP Todd McClay, a cabinet minister, said they are shocked and disappointed to learn of a ministry’s intended two-year consent extension application.

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MHUD) said it was needed to allow more time to build houses.

Rotorua has 10 government-contracted emergency housing motels, down from the 13 given two-year consents in December 2022. The motels are managed by social service agencies.

Resident group Restore Rotorua deputy chairwoman Carolyne Hall has written to McClay and Tapsell requesting an urgent meeting after an MHUD official emailed her this week saying it intended to apply for resource consent for another two years.

Hall told the Rotorua Daily Post in her view promises to end or improve emergency housing made during the 2022 council and 2023 general election campaigns had been forgotten and no one talked anymore about the Rotorua Housing Accord signed in 2022.

What’s proposed

MHUD partnerships and performance general manager Will Barris told the Rotorua Daily Post it aimed to end contracted emergency housing in Rotorua by December 2026.

Barris said about 180 households lived in the 10 motels and while there was a “strong pipeline” of construction, most would be finished in the next two to three years.

He said the government could not end contracted emergency housing this December - when the current resource consents expired - without “significant impacts, disruption and risks to those whānau residing in the motels”.

The resource consent extensions would ensure people could “live in a decent place until they move into more suitable and stable housing”.

Barris said there had been good progress since the consents were granted, including fewer households in non-contracted emergency housing motels - 48 in February down from 213 in September 2022.

Non-contracted motels had dropped from 34 to six and the contracted number in use was down three: New Castle Motor Lodge, Ann’s Volcanic Rotorua Motel and Union Victoria.

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.

‘Blindside and betrayed’

Hall told the Rotorua Daily Post residents felt “blindsided and betrayed”.

In her view: “Chris Bishop came into this community (during the election campaign) with Todd McClay making big promises.”

She said she believed, however, nothing had been done to improve the situation despite raising concerns with Tapsell and McClay a few months ago.

“That’s what I get so upset about is feeling so undermined by the political narrative. We all walk past those motels and see the changing faces and the different cars and what’s been happening as a result.”

She also said new homes being built around the city looked to her like motels.

“We are going to be moving them to the same environment.”

In her letter to McClay and Tapsell, Hall said Rotorua faced an “onslaught” from the “Goliath of MHUD and MSD [Ministry of Social Development]”.

“Once again this community and city has been politically blindsided by a government that promised to deliver on the biggest issue affecting our city.

“The people spoke, they protested, and they believed in the process… We believe this community is entitled to get some understanding as to why we are facing a repeat of the last four years,” Hall’s letter said.

What MP Todd McClay says

The ministry’s intention to seek an extension came as a “shock”, McClay said.

“This is deeply disappointing and follows very bad process.”

He said the cabinet had not made any decision to extend emergency housing consents in Rotorua.

“I will raise this directly with ministers to discuss HUD’s proposal and the process they are following. Nobody wants mums with their kids on the streets, however, we remain committed to our pre-election policy of ending the use of emergency housing motels in Rotorua within two years.”

Some motels would be needed after resource consents expired but it was “inconceivable” to him consent for all 10 would be sought.

McClay said he shared Restore Rotorua’s frustration. “They have worked tirelessly on the homeless motel issue and I can see why she says this letter feels like a kick in the guts to get this email out of the blue.”

McClay said he had arranged to meet with Restore Rotorua and would ask the ministry do so too.

To the accusation of forgotten election promises, McClay said there was a lot of legislative work to do once the Government changed and he had ministerial responsibilities, including the trade and revenue portfolios.

MHUD was approached for comment in response to McClay.

What Mayor Tania Tapsell says

Tapsell said she was also shocked by the extension news.

She said the previous Government committed in 2022 through the Rotorua Housing Accord to reduce the use of motel emergency housing in Rotorua to near zero as soon as possible.

“While improvements were made, our expectation was we would see an end to emergency housing much sooner than what’s played out. Rotorua shouldn’t have to suffer because the previous ogvernment wasn’t able to deliver faster solutions.”

Tapsell, who has previously been a National Party candidate, said the ministry’s intention did not align with her discussions with current ministers.

“I will be meeting with [the ministry] urgently to get more certainty for our community that this won’t negatively impact us.”

She said the ministry’s action was “beyond disappointing”.

The council would be obliged to process the resource consents if applied for.

MHUD was approached for comment in response to McClay and Tapsell’s criticisms.

Ending large-scale emergency housing

Associate Housing Minister Tama Potaka said long-term, large-scale use of emergency housing was a social, moral and cultural “catastrophe”.

He said the Coalition Government had established a new system so families with dependent children in emergency housing for longer than 12 weeks would move to the top of the social housing waitlist.

“Solving emergency housing won’t be easy and it won’t happen immediately. I am exploring a range of options including better support to prevent the need for emergency housing in the first place.”

He said fixing the country’s housing crisis was the ultimate plan.