Rotorua emergency housing: Council reviews target rate for providers


Fenton St. Photo/Ben Fraser

A special charge on emergency accommodation providers is being considered, but some fear this will mean the system in Rotorua will be long term.

The Rotorua Lakes Council is consulting with lawyers over a targeted rate on emergency accommodation providers to pay for ‘escalating costs’ associated with facilities.

This decision was revealed yesterday at a meeting of the Board’s Strategy, Policy and Finance Committee.[[jun9]]

At the meeting, the council’s deputy chief executive for organizational enablement, Thomas Colle, said emergency accommodation providers were “exacerbaters” of a “cost escalation” in the council due to ” challenges” of emergency housing.

Thomas Colle, Deputy Managing Director of Organizational Empowerment Rotorua Council of Lakes.  Photo/Andrew Warner
Thomas Colle, Deputy Managing Director of Organizational Empowerment Rotorua Council of Lakes. Photo/Andrew Warner

“At present [the costs] fall on the general rate.”

However, he said the council could not yet implement a target rate as it would require a change to the council’s long-term plan and funding and revenue policies.

“[The council] is fair to have discussions with our attorneys about how to structure that target rate.”

At Thursday’s meeting, councilor Tania Tapsell said she “strongly” supported the target rate, so it wasn’t just taxpayers who had to “foot the bill”.

“It’s a tap that we couldn’t turn off.

“It is very difficult for us to predict this increase in costs which unfortunately results from a badly managed situation with emergency housing.

Tania Tapsell, Rotorua District Councillor.  Photo/Andrew Warner
Tania Tapsell, Rotorua District Councillor. Photo/Andrew Warner

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick raised a point of order saying she was offended by Tapsell’s comment that emergency accommodation was mismanaged.

Committee chairwoman Councilor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said: “You shouldn’t raise a point of order because you just don’t agree with what someone is saying.”

After the meeting, Restore Rotorua chairman Trevor Newbrook told Local Democracy Reporting that he thought a rate targeted at emergency housing providers was “fair and just”.

Restore Rotorua President Trevor Newbrook.  Photo/Andrew Warner
Restore Rotorua President Trevor Newbrook. Photo/Andrew Warner

However, he thought the decision suggested the council viewed emergency housing as long-term housing.

Newbrook said he did not believe the targeted rate would mitigate some of the negative social impacts of emergency housing that his group had been candid about.

Todd McClay, MP for Rotorua.  Photo/Andrew Warner.
Todd McClay, MP for Rotorua. Photo/Andrew Warner.

Rotorua MP Todd McClay said a targeted rate would further institutionalize emergency housing in Rotorua and “make it permanent”.

“You don’t create a rate for something that’s going to be fixed in six or seven months.”

He said that if there were any additional costs associated with using the emergency accommodation, the government should bear the cost, not the taxpayers of the emergency accommodation, because the government had ” created the problem”.

“It’s about getting people out of motels so that the damage that is being done to our reputation and to many people in motels is addressed.

“We need a better solution than ‘tax a little more’.”

Housing Minister Megan Woods was overseas on Friday, but she previously said the previous national government – of which McClay was a part – had “slashed” social housing, creating the need for emergency housing.

She said it would take time to build accommodation to get people out of emergency accommodation, and Rotorua had a “particularly high number” of people in emergency accommodation due to population growth.

The government-contracted motels were “working well”, she said.

“I haven’t seen the reviews yet…offer a one-size-fits-all solution that isn’t already underway.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern previously told Local Democracy Reporting that the use of motels for emergency accommodation was an “interim measure” while the public housing stock was dealt with.

On Friday, Chadwick told Local Democracy Reporting that the council had “always been adamant” using motels for emergency housing “shouldn’t be long-term.”

“We need more homes before we get rid of the current provisional system. A targeted rate may be worthwhile, but it will be something the next council will have to consider.”

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick.  Photo/Andrew Warner
Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick. Photo/Andrew Warner

She said the target rate could not have been implemented this year because the board had not previously discussed it and there was “not enough time now” to make an amendment to the plan at term in time for the next fiscal year.

On Friday, Colle said additional costs included community safety and legal fees, but these were “very preliminary steps” and no detailed work had yet been done.

It would be “done and shared with the community at the appropriate time” should the new council wish to review it.

He said an amendment to the long-term plan would trigger a formal consultation process and there was not enough time by July 1 to complete it.

Asked about the cost of working with lawyers on the target rate to date, Colle said no legal costs had yet been incurred following a recent “preliminary discussion”.

Evolve spokesman Ryan Gray said if emergency housing providers got a special benefit from council spending that other ratepayers weren’t entitled to, then it would be “fair that they pay for that”.

He said he wanted to know what costs taxpayers incur for emergency housing and what benefits, if any, all residents derive.

“While we would like to see an end to the need for emergency housing, as long as we face a severe housing shortage, it will continue to be needed.

“The risk of applying a targeted rate could lead to lower costs for the general taxpayer, but be passed on to the taxpayer.

“Ultimately, the community as a whole must work towards increasing housing supply to see an end to the need for emergency accommodation in the first place.”

Waiariki MP Rawiri Waititi was approached for comment.

Local Democracy Reporting is public interest journalism funded by NZ On Air.

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