COUNCIL DEEPLY IMPLICATED IN DRAMATIC EXPANSION OF EMERGENCY HOUSING IN ROTORUA
Despite being heavily redacted, this document dated 8 April 2021 is now in the public domain. It provides a much fuller account of how the Rotorua Lakes Council has been centrally involved in repatriating families from around New Zealand into converted tourism accommodation, fundamentally altering the character of our city.
The document is a once-secret bid from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MHUD) to Cabinet seeking permission to “fund the costs of contracting motels and providing wraparound supports for around 200 families and whānau with children currently receiving Emergency Housing Special Needs Grants (EH-SNGs) in motels in Rotorua and associated elements.”
The document confirms that funding was “originally provided in Budget 2016 for 3,000 emergency housing places per year, 800 at any one time.” It admitted a runaway uptake with the “number of distinct clients granted an EH-SNG in a month more than doubled from April 2019 to April 2021. Around $320m was spent in the last year on EH-SNGs, and the average length of stay has also increased.” (p. 1) Notably, Māori “make up 58 percent of all households accessing EH-SNGs.” (p. 3).
How did this happen and was Council implicated? The Rotorua Housing Taskforce established in late March 2021 comprised the Rotorua Lakes Council, Te Arawa Iwi and officials from HUD, MSD, Kāinga Ora and Te Puni Kōkiri. Police Officials and the Lakes District Health Board participated on occasion. Local residents and ratepayers were not consulted.
The document reports four initiatives by the Taskforce. MHUD contracted specific motels to provide emergency accommodation for about 200 families and whānau with children. MHUD contracted additional wraparound support services to meet their needs. The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) contracted additional support for those remaining in current EH-SNG motel places. The Taskforce established a Rotorua Housing Hub to “strengthen assessment and placement processes for emergency housing clients and co-locate relevant services.”
There was much unreported. It would be helpful know more about WERA’s role (p. 4) which presumably manages local contracts for MHUD and MSD of many millions and clips the ticket.
The “by Te Arawa, for Te Arawa” approach to “developing solutions for their whānau and those who call Te Arawa whenua home” (p.12) confirms that the emergency housing scheme is also a repatriation scheme for mana whenua, with self-evident electoral implications.
Given that this emergency housing provision has grown to currently cater for 850 families, denials of Council’s involvement in bussing can be regarded as disingenuous hair splitting. Since Kainga Ora’s strategies for providing transitional housing are redacted, it suggests that the provision is unlikely to be temporary.
Indeed, the Housing Hub has all the functions of a refugee reception and processing centre that will serve as a permanent bureaucracy. Was this in the Spatial Plan and in the Long-Tern Plan? I don’t think so.
There are many other implications that will concern residents and ratepayers, in addition to Restore Rotorua’s astute legal intervention intended to review Council’s consenting criteria and processes related to emergency housing.
For example, elected members of Council were only told fragments about this experiment while the Mayor’s power bloc, including some senior officials, were fully implicated.
In my opinion, the attached document confirms that the experiment was never fully detailed at Council, formally approved and transparently reported. The aggressive defence of the experiment by a senior MSD official, at the behest of the Mayor, came over as an arrogant put down of those with genuine concerns.
Thoughtful elected members will regard this pilot as a risky experiment with an increasingly unfortunate legacy that will become a major electoral issue in October 2022.
So please, read it for yourself.
What do you think it means for Rotorua?
RDRR FB Administrator