More than $100,000 a day is being spent on emergency housing in the Bay of Plenty, on average.
Ministry of Social Development figures revealed to the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend after an Official Information Act request show $37,657,245 was spent on emergency housing grants in the Bay of Plenty between April 2020 and March 2021.
It averages out to $103,170 each day and is more than 21 times the $1,740,900 spent over the same period three years ago.
Government agencies say millions are being poured into housing initiatives in the region, with intentions for about 450 more public homes in the region in 2023 and 2024.
However, the housing grants have been labelled "dead money" and a "bandaid" by one social agency; others say the money would be better spent building houses and fear homelessness could become intergenerational.
Emergency Housing assistance payments are granted as Special Needs Grants, and a person may have more than one grant within a period.
In Tauranga and the Western Bay of Plenty, there were 1281 clients between April and March, which totalled $11,317,570 in grants.
This shot up by 930 more clients in the space of three years, and $10,625,562 more spent on grants.
In Rotorua, there were 2049 emergency housing clients between April last year and March which totalled $21,075,039 in emergency housing grants.
Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services social worker Sai Watson said there had been a noticeable influx of people from out of the city needing emergency housing, on top of Tauranga's growing demand.
This was largely related to family violence, or people being referred there.
She said their emergency housing was always full, and when a room was freed it was filled straight away.
While there were houses to rent in Tauranga, she said the prices were impossible to afford for the many large families, despite both parents working.
Te Tuinga executive director Tommy Wilson said "dead money" was pumped into motels, like in Rotorua, which he said was a "bandaid" solution and didn't address social issues or help in finding short and long-term housing solutions.
He estimated about half of Tauranga's emergency housing clients had been supported by Te Tuinga and their wraparound services.
Wilson believed people living on the breadline - particularly the working poor and the elderly - were tipped into poverty due to the ongoing economic impact of Covid-19.
The amount of money being funnelled into the grants was justified because it was helping people who did not have enough food to eat, who could not afford to stay warm or did not have a roof over their heads.
However, the resources needed to be used in a more strategic way to benefit those most in need - "motels aren't strategic".
Tauranga Budget Advisory Services manager Shirley McCombe said a large portion of its clients were in emergency housing, and it was getting harder for those on low incomes to find and hold on to a home.
She said a huge amount of money was going into emergency housing but accommodation supplements - a non-taxable benefit to help pay for rent, board or the costs of owning a home - hadn't increased.
The maximum a family could receive was $305, but the median rent in Tauranga was $580 and $520 in the Western Bay of Plenty.
"We have clients who just can't survive on the current supplements. The Work and Income case managers do their best to support the clients but they are constrained by the system."
She wanted accommodation supplements to be reviewed so that whānau could afford to stay in their homes, but said this only addressed part of the problem, with supply another obvious issue.
Tauranga Housing Advocacy Trust board chairwoman Carol Heena said the figures were "horrifying," but years of underinvestment in social housing meant emergency accommodation was often the only option.
"It is not ideal and it severely damages mental health as well as physical health, especially for children. However, so does couch surfing, living in cars, garages, and on the street."
She said New Zealand had turned its back on updating its infrastructure for a long time, and mass building wouldn't be quick.
"We are all paying the price in some form for that ... unfortunately, there's no quick fix."
Accessible Properties general manager Vicki McLaren said the figures were "eye-watering" and the money was going into the wrong place.
The level of need has been growing invisibly until recently, she said, and the responses at the moment were reactive and short-term.
"We're investing in a sub-optimal status quo instead of much-needed social infrastructure. It's the human cost we need to be focusing on," she said.
"Our focus needs to be on the level of investment required to provide decent homes for all New Zealanders. The cost of not doing so will be far higher than the amounts causing concern today."
McLaren said there needed to be a shared understanding of the current housing system and the political will to solve "this wicked problem".
Whānau Ora chairwoman and Rotorua Lakes councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said there had been years of ignoring the issues: growing demand for mental health support, people unable to survive on their benefits, the lack of suitable housing or investment on those in low-wage jobs.
"It has finally caught up with us, and now we are reaping what has been sown."
She said the welfare system was not developed by the homeless or beneficiaries and Government departments as far back as 15 years ago knew significant social issues were looming.
No big changes could be expected if solutions were driven by the same people that did nothing to prevent "this catastrophic situation," she said.
She believed the current situation would become the norm unless people demanded direct input into where time, effort and money was directed.
Rotorua MP Todd McClay said the Government needed to build more houses and cap the number of people being housed in motels.
"The Government needs to actually build some houses, it's the only solution.
"I worry that these people that don't want to be languishing in motels will be left there for many, many years. It's not fair on them, and it's not fair for the community."
He said he continued to hear reports of more people coming to Rotorua and more motels being looked at as emergency housing options.
Bay of Plenty Labour List MP Angie Warren-Clarke said the "train wreck" now faced in the housing crisis was a "long time coming" after previous Government failings.
"Nobody wants people to be homeless or in emergency housing, but we don't walk away from the fact that it's not okay for people to be homeless. We will spend that money to have those people in the accommodation."
She said the plan was to build at pace and get as many properties into the market as soon as possible.
"Emergency housing is intended to be short-term. My biggest concern is to ensure people are safe, have somewhere to go, are warm and dry on a temporary basis.
"While it's not great to have these numbers, it's also in the context of saying that if someone needs help we will record that person and get them the help they need ... we're ensuring people can go on the registers."
Kāinga Ora Bay of Plenty homes and communities regional director Darren Toy said since April 2018, Kāinga Ora delivered more than 140 new homes in the Bay of Plenty, with around 120 currently under construction, contract or feasibility stages of development.
The agency also partners with developers around purchasing and delivering new development.
As well as new homes, he said they would upgrade around 100 state homes over the next two years, including full insulation, double glazing, new heating and improved airtightness and ventilation.
Ministry of Housing and Urban Development engagement and communications manager Dennis de Reus said hundreds of houses in the Bay have been budgeted for.
The Government identified intentions for 430 to 450 more public homes in the region in 2023 and 2024 in the Public Housing Plan 2021 on top of the additional 275 extra homes expected for through the 2018 plan.
The Government announced a $3.8 billion Housing Acceleration Fund in March which included a Kāinga Ora Land Programme to increase the supply of build-ready land with more details yet to be announced.
The fund set aside $350m to enable infrastructure for Maori Housing, alongside Whai Kāinga Whai Oranga's commitment of $380m over four years.
The Government's National Policy Statement – Urban Development has put in place requirements for local councils to enable greater intensification to support more housing supply and affordability.
Property development and new builds will be exempt from the interest limitation rules recently announced and new builds would be subject to a five-year bright-line test, rather than the 10-year one.
MSD Bay of Plenty regional commissioner Mike Bryant said a vast majority of people who receive emergency housing support are either from, or have connections to the Bay of Plenty, and they did not relocate people to the region.
A "very valid and clear reason" was required before any emergency housing support is provided for people to relocate.
He said the growing demand in Rotorua and Tauranga was due to the ongoing shortage of affordable housing.
MSD were working with their partners to establish a Housing Hub which includes contracting wrap-around support services for whanau and tamariki in motels.
Bryant said the Accommodation Supplement will be considered in the Working for Families review.
How many social houses are there?
In the past five years, the combined stock of Kainga Ora houses in Tauranga and the Western Bay dropped by 1100 - from 1348 in 2015 to currently 248.
In December 2017, the stock was down to 196 after Accessible Properties New Zealand Limited (APNZL) took over the HNZ portfolio of 1138 homes earlier that year.
Since taking over the HNZ stock, they have added another 44 homes to their portfolio in the year ending June 2020 while working to improve the quality of existing properties.
There are seven currently under construction and 12 in the planning stage.
There are 726 people on the housing register in Tauranga and the Western Bay of Plenty - 572 more than in 2015, according to the Ministry of Social Development's housing register.
The housing register is a list of people not currently in public housing who have been assessed as eligible for public housing, and who are ready to be matched to a suitable property.
Of the 726 applicants currently on the register, 696 are considered at-risk, with a severe and persistent housing need that must be addressed immediately.
The remainder is considered to have a serious housing need.