The Government is spending millions of dollars on emergency housing in New Zealand each year and new figures show just how much money is being paid to individual motels and other accommodation providers in the Western Bay of Plenty. Carmen Hall and Scott Yeoman report.
A motel in Tauranga has been paid more than $1 million by the Government in less than three years for providing emergency housing.
The Ministry of Social Development is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars more every year on emergency housing special needs grants in the Western Bay of Plenty.
Nationwide, the yearly increase is in the millions and more than $154.5m has been spent on the grants in less than three years.
Emergency housing special needs grants are available to people who do not have access to accommodation that is adequate for them or their family's needs. The financial help is generally granted for up to seven nights but can be extended.
The Bay of Plenty Times has obtained, under the Official Information Act, a list of the top 20 emergency housing providers that received these grants and were paid the most money by Ministry of Social Development service centres in Te Puke, Tauranga, Greerton and Mount Maunganui.
At the top of the list was the Ambassador Motor Inn in Tauranga South, which received $1,146,504 for 990 grants between the start of October 2016 and the end of June this year.
The owner, Roger Barclay, said he was approached by Work and Income asking if he could offer some of the motel's excess accommodation for families requiring emergency housing.
He said winter was the Ambassador's low season, so he agreed to help.
"Initially we did have a number of antisocial incidents, but since we started our screening process, we have had a relatively smooth relationship."
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Barclay said 12 of the motel's 20 units had recently been revamped, but a rear block of eight units still needed upgrading.
"'Til they are, we will continue to help those needing emergency housing."
Barclay said the market rate for a one-bedroom unit at his motel was $180 and the 990 grants his motel had received had a value of $1152 each (seven nights at $165 a night).
He also said half of the units available were two-bedroom units, which usually had a nightly charge of $195.
Tauranga Rainbow Motel in Cameron Rd at Gate Pā, which is owned by NZ BOP Investment & Development Ltd, was the second-highest paid provider on the list.
The owner was unavailable for comment when the Bay of Plenty Times contacted the motel.
Almost half of the top 20 providers on the list were paid more than $100,000 each in less than three years.
But where else are people meant to sleep, if not motels?
Tommy Wilson, the director of social agency Te Tuinga Whānau, said the reality was, if motels in the Western Bay did not offer emergency housing, more people would be sleeping in their cars, in sheds or other temporary locations.
However, he said the hundreds of thousands of dollars being paid to those motels was "dead money".
"Surely we should be building a purpose-built emergency village? That's going to be our focus."
In total, between the start of October 2016 and the end of June this year, more than $3.9m was spent on 4026 emergency housing special needs grants in the Western Bay of Plenty.
That money funded 25,482 nights for 929 clients.
And the spending is only going up as more people seek help for emergency housing.
In 2017, $659,687 was spent on 816 grants in the Western Bay. Last year, more than $1.3m was spent on 1495 grants.
And in the first six months of this year, more than $1.7m was spent on 1603 grants.
The same trend is apparent nationwide.
In 2017, more than $36.9m was spent on the grants nationwide.
Last year, it was more than $52.4m.
And in the first half of this year? More than $57.4m.
Ministry of Social Development general manager of housing – service delivery Karen Hocking said emergency housing suppliers contributed a vital service and affordable accommodation in New Zealand was in limited supply, including short-term accommodation.
She said the ministry recognised it was not a long-term solution, particularly for vulnerable people with complex needs.
"It provides a short-term solution while more sustainable options are progressed. It is important that those who would otherwise be homeless have somewhere warm and dry to stay."
Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless said using motels as a backstop for homeless people was inefficient and the Government was not putting enough funding into housing.
He said the buck also stopped with society but that it was a difficult balance.
"I have no problem with people who are put in motels through no fault of their own but my sympathy runs a little bit thin when they have been repeatedly kicked out of accommodation."
Who can be an emergency housing provider?
• Landlords or accommodation providers are required to submit proof they own the property or are authorised to act on the owner's behalf.
• An accommodation provider would generally be considered appropriate if they are a commercial provider or a not-for-profit accommodation provider and are approved by the relevant authorities including the council.
• Providers must meet the requirements to become a supplier.
- Source: Ministry for Social Development