A Rotorua Lakes Council committee has recommended the incoming council prioritise social issues such as emergency housing and family harm. The recommendation was made at a meeting today following a presentation from the council's social development strategy advisor, Dr Suzanne Gower. The commitment is a response to a local government law change meaning this year's newly elected councils will focus on the "Four Wellbeings" - social, environmental, economic and cultural indicators. Samantha Olley was at the meeting.
Demands for emergency housing and benefits are much larger in Rotorua than most of New Zealand, and family harm incidents are "very high".
That's according to a district council presentation which prompted the Rotorua Lakes Council's Strategy, Policy & Finance Committee to unanimously support recommending the incoming council prioritise these issues.
The council's social development strategy advisor, Dr Suzanne Gower, presented a report to this morning's meeting, listing the cities "wicked problems" - those that are socially complex and difficult to solve.
Dr Gower's report responded to local government law changes that mean this year's newly elected councils will focus on the "Four Wellbeings" - social, environmental, economic and cultural indicators.
They will also have to work more closely with the central Government to ensure taxpayer-funded services are focusing on the district's biggest needs.
Gower's report said, "the overarching problem faced by Rotorua is the high level of deprivation".
It showed 388 Ministry of Social Development clients in Rotorua needed emergency housing last year, at a total cost of almost $2.7 million.
In Whakatāne, there were just 50, with a total cost of $93,847 - a 30th of the cost in Rotorua.
In Taupō there were 58, with a total cost of $106,256, a 25th of Rotorua's.
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Census data from 2013 showed almost half of the Rotorua district's population lived in circumstances mirroring New Zealand's most deprived areas.
"While this information is now six years old, indications are that the situation has changed little, if at all," the report said.
Average house prices increased by $203,938 in just four years, from $268,628 in March 2015 to $472,566 in March 2019.
The report also showed 177 people who were eligible for public housing, were on the waiting list in December last year.
In terms of income and employment, the average annual income in Rotorua was $62,900 in 2017, about $10,000 less than the national average.
In June 2018, 7.7 per cent of Rotorua's population needed Job Seekers Support, the tenth highest percentage across New Zealand's 66 territorial authorities.
Meanwhile, Rotorua police were called out to 4238 family harm episodes in the year to March 2018.
These involved 4200 children and 7293 adults.
Councillor Peter Bentley was concerned the council would be taking on central Government's work.
"I would much rather see our infrastructure, with regard to stormwater and sewage and all that, up to scratch."
In response, chief executive Geoff Williams said the recommendation was "bringing central Government resources to the table and ensuring there was a whole community focus on community priorities".
Councillor Trevor Maxwell asked if the Four Wellbeings approach would be better implemented by this Labour-led government than the last.
Gower said, "I would suggest it's going to be more structured, and there will be more work around it".
Councillor Tania Tapsell said the council had powers that could improve the housing situation "so the old and selfish notion of 'this is not council's responsibility' - we're done with that now".
Councillor Karen Hunt, who chaired the meeting, said: "It's not just about building core infrastructure, because if we build it, but we still have all these issues of homelessness, then to me, we have failed as a community."
She referred to New Zealand's high stress and suicide rates and said: "at no time in our history has societal wellbeing been more important".
She said the wellbeing funding "cannot and should not come from Rotorua ratepayers' money, it is a general tax issue".
Further details on central Government's "Wellbeing Budget" will be announced on May 30.