Rotorua moteliers say they aren't trained or equipped to be dealing with what they have to deal with. That's everything from gang and domestic violence, to mental health and drug issues. The problem has been compounded by an increase in homeless people being housed in motels. It prompted a meeting between key players to discuss just how the city got into this position, and what can be done. Katee Shanks reports.
"Weapons, drugs, violence - we're dealing with it all."
Those are the words of Rotorua Association of Motels chairwoman Shelley Hobson-Powell, who says local moteliers are having to deal with drugs, mental health issues, gang fights and domestic violence as increasing numbers of homeless people are put up in motels.
The issues caused by the increasing numbers prompted a meeting between motel owners and suppliers, tourism operators, hospitality representatives, government agencies, police and Mayor Steve Chadwick.
Between 80 and 100 people, all affected by the city's housing shortage, attended a meeting hosted by the Rotorua Association of Motels to discuss issues and look at ways to make things better.
Hobson-Powell said the meeting was called to get everyone on the same page in acknowledging the issues and to provide suggestions to help.
"There are a lot of people trying to understand how and why we have got to where we are and what is being done to try and fix the problems - that is why the meeting was held," Hobson-Powell said.
"I had to try and help a woman who wanted to end her life. As moteliers, we aren't trained or equipped to be dealing with what we are dealing with.
"Another example is the fighting between opposing gang members who are now living in close proximity to each other while in temporary accommodation.
"Weapons, drugs, violence - we're dealing with it all. The problems are also very visible and are impacting negatively on the way people view Rotorua."
Rough night ahead for Big Sleepout Rotorua fundraisers
The latest figures from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development show Rotorua motels earned $3.36 million from 2410 emergency housing grants between April and June this year by putting up homeless people.
This was up from $2.27m and 1852 emergency housing grants in the first quarter of the year.
The data also revealed over the same timeframes the waiting list for state houses had jumped from 240 to 305 applicants.
The meeting followed the release of the figures which also prompted concerns the city's tourism reputation was taking a battering.
Hobson-Powell said there were a number of factors which contributed to Rotorua's housing problem and those could not be fixed overnight.
She said there were a lot of people at the meeting who wanted to talk about how things were affecting them and their businesses.
Hospitality NZ regional manager Alan Sciascia also spoke at the meeting and later provided the Rotorua Daily Post with his presentation which highlighted a 40 per cent growth in inbound tourism between 2013 and 2018.
It showed that despite that, New Zealand hotels and motels reduced in numbers and occupancy rates had not risen since 2016.
"More people are coming to Rotorua but this has not equated to hotel and motel stays," Sciascia later told the Rotorua Daily Post. "So where are they staying?"
According to Sciascia, the rapid growth of Airbnb was a contributor.
"Not only have the number of Airbnb properties increased, so has the revenue they collect.
"Families are being driven out of homes, it's that simple."
Air Dna, which collects data for both Airbnb and HomeAway, shows there are 921 active homes and 280 private rooms listed for rent in Rotorua.
Police were represented at the meeting and apparently spoke about a handful of measures they had instigated. Moteliers now have a direct link with a local police officer and were given advice about at what point to seek help from police about people staying at motels.
Chadwick told the Rotorua Daily Post she agreed there was no short-term fix for the housing situation and said using motels as temporary housing was not a long-term solution.
"We need more homes – of all types – and solutions will require a collaborative approach by all with a role to play.
"This includes local and central government and its agencies, which need to be aligned in order to make a difference."
Chadwick said right now, government agencies were making decisions in isolation and counter to what others were trying to achieve.
"More people are now realising the housing situation is just one part of a much bigger and very complex housing picture."
While the Ministry of Social Development was represented at the meeting, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and Housing New Zealand were not in attendance.
Since the meeting, the three government departments have released a joint statement.
"Ending homelessness is a priority for Government. Every person has a right to a warm, dry, secure and safe place to live. Where local authorities are addressing homelessness and housing issues, key government agencies will connect to offer assistance to solutions.
"We are focused on how New Zealand is responding to the lack of housing and how we can support local people who are affected by the lack of houses. We will continue to work with council and local providers," the representative statement said.
Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner Mike Bryant said the ministry's part of the Government's $54 million measures to help homelessness programme included wrap-around support for families with children and people with mental health needs in emergency housing, as well as people with a history of cycling in and out of emergency housing.
"We are also taking the lead with the introduction of intensive case managers and navigators."
Scott Gallacher, deputy chief executive of the housing and urban development funding and programme delivery, said the ministry was looking to bring on extra transitional housing places in Rotorua.
"HUD [Ministry of Housing and Urban Development] continues to monitor demand with MSD [Ministry of Social Development] and consider opportunities as they arise.
"Our aim at HUD, as part of an all-of-government response, is to provide 6400 net additional public housing places across New Zealand by June 2022 or around 1600 places per year, fully funded through Budget 2018. Of those, 275 are planned for the wider Bay of Plenty region and 85 for Rotorua District."
Housing New Zealand Rotorua area manager Sharlene Karena-Newman said Housing New Zealand had a strong focus on the Rotorua area.
"We work closely with local government, local stakeholders and our partner agencies such as the Housing and Urban Development Ministry and the Ministry of Social Development," Karena-Newman said.
"We have been engaging with Rotorua's mayor about our plans ... We remain committed to helping solve housing issues in Rotorua."
Facts and figures - Bay of Plenty
• As at June 30, in the Bay of Plenty region there were 888 applications on the Housing Register including 305 in the Rotorua District.
• There were 268 transitional housing places which can support up to 1072 households a year. Of those 109 places, for 436 households, are in the Rotorua District.
• There were 2691 households already supported in public housing tenancies, of which 643 were in the Rotorua District.
• Housing New Zealand has 652 homes in Rotorua. There are 42 homes under construction or development, comprising one, two, three and six-bedroom houses.
Facts and figures - Nationwide
• There are 3000 households in motels and it is costing more than $100 million a year.
• In a briefing to new Housing Minister Megan Woods released last week, Treasury said 1899 households were using private motels for emergency accommodation. Another 779 households were in government-contracted motels for transitional housing.
1899 households in motels for emergency housing.
779 households in motels for transitional housing.
$34.4m spent on emergency housing grants in June quarter.
23,574 grants given to 5103 people in June quarter.