Today the Rotorua Daily Post reveals exactly how much money was given to each motel in taxpayer funds during the lockdown period to house the city's homeless. Journalist Kelly Makiha breaks down the figures to the top 10 earners and talks to moteliers about why they say they deserve the money.
A Rotorua motel has pocketed more than $300,000 in three months in emergency housing grants, according to figures obtained by the Rotorua Daily Post.
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The figures, released under the Official Information Act, reveal the motels in the city earning the most from the emergency housing and special needs grants scheme.
The Grand Treasure on Pukuatua St was the highest earner, paid $307,065 by the Government between March 1 and May 31 this year.
The amount equated to, on average, more than $25,000 a week. That figure was for 166 grants covering 76 distinct clients (which could be an individual or a family).
The next highest earner was Kuirau Park Motor Lodge which was paid $289,189 for 120 grants followed by Geneva Motor Lodge which was paid $200,880 for 78 grants.
The figures only cover motels which are part of the Ministry of Social Development's emergency housing scheme and do not include transitional housing or those under schemes with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, which includes the Visions of a Helping Hand Trust's operation at Tuscany Villas and Emerald Spa Resort on Fenton St.
The Rotorua Daily Post earlier revealed there was more than $5 million spent on emergency housing and special needs grants in Rotorua for the three months to the end of June - with the city far outstripping what was paid in other parts of the region.
A woman, who said she was the manager of the Grand Treasure and daughter of the owner, refused to comment when approached by the Rotorua Daily Post. She repeatedly said no comment when asked if the amount they were paid was fair and reasonable to taxpayers.
Kuirau Park Motor Lodge manager, who wouldn't give his name, was shocked they were the second-highest earner.
While he admitted it was "big money", he said they worked hard for it because the emergency housing clients were "high needs".
"I am sleeping not good. I get woken three nights a week to sort out problems or call police."
He said his business of 25 rooms really appreciated the funding because without it the motel wouldn't have survived as all their bookings cancelled as a result of the pandemic.
"We have confidence next year now and we can use the money to reinvest in the motel."
Ashleigh Court Motel manager Billy Ho, whose motel was the eighth-highest earner being paid $136,678, said the amount was fair.
He said they had plans to renovate once it was "all over" and they had to constantly put money aside for repairs, maintenance and replacing used or missing items from the rooms.
"We did pretty well and it was good money. We are obviously grateful to have this opportunity to earn this amount of money but it's sad the taxpayers' money has to be used in this way."
Ann's Volcanic Motel, which was the ninth-highest earner being paid $104,800, was now discounting emergency housing clients, according to manager Sam Ho.
"We are charging less than we did the tourists.
"Ours is a fair price and it's definitely helped us to get through this Covid pandemic and it's the only way we are surviving at the moment."
Others that rate in the top 10 earners - Geneva Motor Lodge, Cactus Jacks, Golden Flow, Manhattan Motel, Astray Motel and Fernleaf Motel - couldn't be reached for comment.
What the politicians say
National's Rotorua MP Todd McClay said these were "huge amounts of money" but it was no surprise.
"The Government has created a problem in Rotorua. They are throwing money at it and don't even seem to have a short-term solution. I think local taxpayers are right to be concerned and angry."
He said the amounts showed local businesses were "much better negotiators" than the Government.
"It would be funny if it wasn't so serious. These are hundreds of people the Government has dumped in motels with no end in sight to provide proper housing for them."
Labour's Waiariki MP Tāmati Coffey said the Government had been clear that protecting the health of New Zealanders against Covid-19 was its top priority.
"That includes ensuring people without a secure whare of their own have somewhere to stay in their time of need.
"We don't want families here in Rotorua sleeping in parks or in their cars, let alone at a time like this where being able to self-isolate is so crucial to your health, your kids, and that of our wider community."
He said he was proud the Government had been able to "back the manaakitanga" of the Rotorua community, provide funding that sheltered families in urgent need and support more of the local accommodation services to get through and protect jobs.
He said the figures could "hide" the number of lives they were protecting through each special needs grant.
"One distinct client may be an individual, the next, two parents with multiple children who require additional warm, dry, safe environments for their whānau and hence puts a variable into the costs."
He said the grants were for a maximum of seven nights at a time, which aimed at encouraging clients to continue to search for more long-term, sustainable housing options.
Coffey said the Government had boosted its state housing building plan by spending an extra $570m in Budget 2020 on creating 8000 more public housing spaces and transitional homes across New Zealand over the next four years.
"We owe it to our next generation, to keep our foot on the gas, and keep this momentum moving in terms of being kind and working in partnership to create more sustainable housing options for our people."
New Zealand First deputy leader and Rotorua List MP Fletcher Tabuteau said the motel situation was necessary.
"Remember if the previous National Government had continued to build social housing instead of selling it off, we wouldn't be in this mess.
"We are now building more houses in New Zealand than ever before. That is the solution we need."
When asked about the cost, he said: "We would be happy to review the contracts to make sure we the taxpayer are getting value for money."
He said this was only a short-term solution to make up for what he said were "inadequacies" of the previous National Government.
"We have to keep focused, but here in Rotorua more houses are being built right now. Finally."