The content of the Rotorua Housing Accord prepared for signing on 9 December is different than the uncritical reports published at various news outlets. It suggests that the articles were based on the press releases provided by the Ministers and our Mayor and were intended to spin the intended outcomes of the Accord, rather than clarify the substance and implications of the Accord. When the limitations of the Accord are added to the legacy of distrust created by the previous Council, it is understandable why residents and ratepayers remain sceptical.
Background to the Accord
This section is a selective appreciation of the causes of the housing crisis, as seen by three Parties to the Accord – The Crown, Rotorua Lakes Council and Te Arawa Iwi. In New Zealand, “The Crown” refers to Crown entities that are set up at ‘arm’s length’ from ministers to deliver a range of government services, make some decisions independently, and thereby, diffuse the public accountability of ministers.
The main cause of the housing crisis is held to be strong population growth. It is claimed that demand significantly exceeded supply resulting in the rapid growth of house values and rents, overcrowding and an unstable rental market. The crisis was admittedly worsened by using motels for emergency housing during the Covid-19 pandemic, adversely affecting all aspects of community well-being, and, allegedly, by undermining the mana [authority] of Te Arawa overall and Ngāti Whakaue as mana whenua [with authority over land].
The Parties saw primary responsibility for housing resting with The Crown, with the Council to provide leadership and representation, and for the three parties to collaborate in good faith to resolve the crisis.
There is no mention of the effects of the central Government’s new housing standards that resulted in many rental properties being switched into short-term commercial opportunities. There is no recognition of how the Ministry for Social Development (MSD) exacerbated the crisis by bussing in homeless from around New Zealand, and by funding Te Kopakū (The Hub, owned by Ngāti Whakaue) to evaluate their needs and place them into uncontracted emergency housing (UEH), sometimes alongside patched gang members and 501s in “mixed-use” motels. There is no acknowledgement of Rotorua’s recent contraction in population.
There is no indication that the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MHUD) added to the crisis by expanding contracted emergency housing (CEH) in large motels. MHUD has a very unpopular consent application before Commissioners to contract 13 large motels exclusively for five years to process up to 15,000 homeless with average stays of three months. If the proposal is approved, on or after 16 December, MHUD would consolidate a major component of Rotorua’s current homeless industry and contradict the general direction set by the Accord and recent announcements by the Mayor and Minister.
On the other hand, the Accord defined “Emergency Housing” as including “the use of motels and other tourist accommodation for emergency accommodation through Emergency Housing Special Needs Grants, Contracted Emergency Housing (CEH), COVID-19 motels, motels used for Transitional Housing and use of motels by other government departments.” This suggests that the Accord may have pre-empted and significantly denied MHUD’s application.
There is no reference to the crisis in public confidence caused by the outgoing Council deciding to sell reserves to Kāinga Ora (KO) and other social housing providers at undisclosed prices (a decision promptly reversed by the incoming Council). The widespread opposition to KO’s policy of giving new builds to “the most needy” homeless of New Zealand, and its proposal in Plan Change 9 to build high rise accommodation for the homeless across Glenholme, are similarly not mentioned. In sum, significant public opposition to proposals from Crown entities was not acknowledged as a generative feature of the housing crisis.
Finally, there is no reference to the role of the Rotorua Housing Taskforce established in March 2021. It comprised senior officials from the Council, MSD, MHUD (including KO), Te Puni Kokiri, sometimes The Police and Corrections, Te Arawa (represented by Ngāti Whakaue) and local contracted social service providers – Visions of a Helping Hand, WERA Aotearoa and Emerge Aotearoa. They operated as a loosely coordinated group of ministries (The Crown), Council and profit-making enterprises, that is, as a homeless industry that, together, significantly intensified adverse effects.
Principles and Values of the Accord
The Parties agreed to support the position of Te Arawa and Ngāti Whakaue as Te Tiriti parties, without specifying consequences. They also agreed that four overarching principles would underpin interactions:
- Mahi Tahi [Work together] and Partnership. Our partnership is based on good faith and willingness to work together to achieve shared goals.
- Respect and Tikanga [Method]. We will respect each other’s tikanga and our interactions are mana enhancing. Our relationships are based on mutual respect.
- Openness, transparency and maramatanga [understanding]. We will be clear about what we are trying to achieve.
- Mohiotanga [knowledge] and early communication. We will communicate clearly and early and provide all necessary information so that all three parties can participate effectively.
Regarding values, the Parties agreed to “work and act with integrity and honesty at all times” and that “Te Arawa beliefs and ideologies must be given “mana” and applied as directed by Te Arawa”.
While the principles of interaction above embody universal standards, the third principle was contradicted by Council reportedly evaluating and conditionally approving the draft Accord on 24 November in a public-excluded session. It appears that the newly inducted Council has adopted the widely criticised secrecy of the previous Council and where the role of elected members of Council was sometimes reduced to rubber stamping decisions predetermined by co-governance partners. This impression is reinforced by Te Arawa’s beliefs and ideologies being given preeminence in the Accord over all other citizens’ values and human rights in a democracy.
Conversely, there is no acknowledgement in the Accord that Council is obliged by the Local Government Act 2002 to provide “democratic and effective local government that recognises the diversity of New Zealand communities”, and to “maintain and improve opportunities for Māori to contribute to local government decision-making processes …[and to] … facilitate participation by Māori in local authority decision-making processes” without allocating decision making power in addition to that warranted by formal representation structures.
There is no mention of the elected members’ oath of office which obliges all on Council to serve everyone’s interests, including those of what might be termed “ratepayer partners”.
Purpose and Priorities of the Accord
The declared purpose of the Accord is “to bring together the collective insights, capability, and experience of Te Arawa, the Crown and Council, combined with the resources of the Crown and Council.” Given the specifications in Appendix One, this purpose can be interpreted as ingratiating co-governance by the three Signatories and funding solely by taxpayers and ratepayers.
The priorities emphasized by the Accord are clear:
- reduce the use of emergency housing in Rotorua to near zero as soon as possible;
- ensure appropriate emergency housing options are available for those with urgent housing need from Rotorua;
- ensure quality delivery of care and well-being services to individuals and whānau residing in emergency housing accommodation;
- mitigate the unintended adverse social, cultural, economic, and environmental impacts emergency housing has had on the Rotorua community;
- ensure the safe transition of individuals and whanau exiting emergency housing accommodation with appropriate support provisions to maintain independent living; and
- address the chronic housing shortage in Rotorua by increasing the housing supply.
However, in the absence of an implementation timeline, the first two priorities are potentially in conflict. The second priority lacks a definition of “from Rotorua” that would exclude MSD’s current practice of designating “out-of-towners” as “locals” after 30 days. The third, fourth and fifth priorities point to the current lack of professional specifications of what would count as “quality services”, “mitigation of impacts”, and “safe transition” with “appropriate support”. The final priority requires an updated analysis of housing demand and supply chain dynamics, and a project plan using a critical path analysis.
The Objectives of the Accord
The Initial Work Plans set objectives for the first work stream – Care and Well-being and Management of Emergency Housing:
- To end the use of mixed-use motels or similar accommodation for emergency housing.
- To provide appropriate support for, and actively manage, the individuals and whānau in emergency housing and look out for their care and well-being.
- To ensure individuals and whānau exit emergency housing in an appropriate manner ready and equipped to move into better housing.
- To manage the entry and placement of individuals and whānau into emergency housing.
- To mitigate current, and prevent further, adverse social, cultural, environmental, and economic effects of emergency housing on the Rotorua community.
As noted above, it is not entirely clear if the first objective precludes MHUD’s proposal to contract 13 large motels for emergency housing. Further, given that the MHUD Minister promised to end the use of “mixed-use” motels for emergency housing on 13 May 2021, her recent reported assurance that they would be reduced to “as few as three before Christmas” prompts a reasonable question – Which Christmas?
Objectives two, three and four would justify MSD continuing to fund Nagti Whakaue’s Te Kopakū and thereby sustaining instead of dismantling the current homeless industry offering CEH. All objectives will need to be elaborated as work stream performance indicators to deliver on the priorities of the Accord.
The Initial Work Plans also set objectives for the second work stream – Housing Supply:
- To build a pipeline that encompasses planning and infrastructure requirements that delivers public, affordable and other housing required to meet Rotorua’s current and future demand.
- To grow the overall volume of housing supply.
- For the Crown and Council to actively support those Te Arawa Iwi, hapū, and lands trusts and incorporations that wish to participate in housing supply to do so.
- To ensure new infrastructure and housing supply will be responsive to demand, and provide for the longterm social, cultural, environmental and economic well-being of Rotorua and its people.
The objectives related to “building a housing pipeline”, “growing supply” and “active support” for iwi will need to be clarified as work stream performance indicators to prevent further growth of the homeless industry and to manage downscaling as demand and supply approach a new equilibrium.
Governance, Steering Group, Work Streams, Review and Monitoring
Governance will be the responsibility of the two Accord Signatories for each of the three Parties, specifically the Ministers for MHUD and MSD, the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Rotorua, and two representatives of Te Arawa. They will meet quarterly.
The Parties will develop a joint Workplan for the next 12 months, including resourcing. This implies that work stream planning and budgeting is months away from authorization and active implementation.
Further, inter-party communications will need development. The Parties agreed that unless otherwise notified by Te Arawa in writing, all Accord related communications to/ from the Crown and/or Council must be directed to/from Te Tatau o Te Arawa. Te Tatau is funded by Council as the policy advisory arm of Te Arawa and will need capacity building to serve as a communications hub for the governance Signatories, the Steering Group and the two work streams.
Installing this co-governance structure may be politically ill-timed. On 19 December, MP Willie Jackson will recommend to Cabinet that all policy work on co-governance be suspended. Further, it is not clear in the Accord how public accountability will be discharged.
The Accord Steering Group will meet monthly and have oversight of the two work streams. It will comprise the CE of MHUD, the CE of Council, four Te Arawa representatives (two being appointed by the Ngāti Whakaue representatives), DCE of MSD, the Regional Public Service Commissioner, the DCE Place of MHUD, and Council’s DCE District Development.
The work stream managers of Care, Well-being and Managing Emergency Housing will comprise the DCE Place of MHUD, the Group General Manager Housing of MSD, the DCE Community Wellbeing of Council, the Regional Public Service Commissioner, two Te Arawa Representatives (1 being appointed by the Ngāti Whakaue representatives) and the Police Area Commander.
The work stream managers of Housing Delivery will include DCE Place, MHUD, DCE District Development, Council, two Te Arawa Representatives (one being appointed by the Ngāti Whakaue representatives) and the DCE Te Puku Ikaroa – Central, Kāinga Ora.
The Parties recognized that the Accord might require the input, participation and approval of other Crown Ministers and their departments, and that prior statutory obligations would require some decisions to be make independently (such as Council’s role and functions as a Building Consent Authority and decision-maker under the Resource Management Act). Similarly, for decisions around funding, The Crown and Council “may need to consider budgetary constraints.” Nevertheless, the Parties also agreed that “all decisions in respect of this Accord, including any decisions of their Accord Signatories, Steering Group members, and work stream members are made by consensus.”
Skepticism in the Accord by residents and ratepayers is warranted, first, by the selective appreciation of the housing crisis. The Government and Council’s roles in the past, and how the Rotorua Housing Taskforce built a homeless industry, have been whitewashed from recent history.
Second, the Accord’s defaulting to co-governance is poorly justified and politically ill-timed in the national context.
Third, the principles and values adopted by the Accord Parties are biased in favour of Te Arawa at inevitable cost to the interests of all citizens.
Fourth, the purpose of the Accord ingratiates co-governance by the three Signatories (The Crown, Council and Te Arawa) and funding solely by taxpayers and ratepayers. The priorities emphasized are to downscale emergency housing while sustaining options to those in need from Rotorua, to provide appropriate care, to mitigate unintended effects on the community, to provide effective transition to independent living, and to boost housing supply. These priorities are all merited yet need further refinement.
Fifth, the objectives of the Accord are clarified as Initial Work Plans for two work streams to be managed by senior officials – Care and Well-being and Management of Emergency Housing, and, Housing Supply. There are anomalies to attend to, such as the need for performance indicators to prevent the further growth of the homeless industry, and to manage downscaling as demand and supply approach a new equilibrium.
Sixth, the organisation of governance, the Steering Group, work streams, review and monitoring confirm co-governance, that work stream planning and budgeting is months away from authorization and active implementation, and that inter-party communications will need significant development. On the other hand, it is not clear in the Accord how public accountability will be discharged by senior officials and how the prior responsibilities of ministries and departments will be reconciled with consensus decision making.
In sum, the Accord sets out a new working policy for housing in Rotorua on behalf of the three Parties. It was negotiated between the Parties and approved in secret by the new Council, favours the interests of Te Arawa, and empowers senior officials to plan two work streams for funding by taxpayers and ratepayers. There is much to commend it despite the presence of anomalies.