A 2ha block that's been vacant for more than 30 years near Rotorua's central city has been sold to the Government to build housing to help ease the homeless crisis.
Housing agency Kāinga Ora bought the land on the corner of Ranolf St and Malfroy Rd for $6.45 million to build what it is describing as warm, dry and modern homes for those most in need.
Building is expected to begin by the start of next year.
It's not yet known how many houses will be built but a previous upmarket development planned for the site, Ashworth Villas, was to have 50 lots.
Kāinga Ora – homes and communities Bay of Plenty regional director Darren Toy said the block was near schools, community amenities and the central city.
"We are exploring how this site could be developed for medium density public housing and expect to offer a range of different-sized homes for those most in need of housing, alongside landscaped shared green spaces, and with strong connections to the wider community," Toy told the Rotorua Daily Post.
"We will be working closely with councils around necessary infrastructure and site-specific requirements for the construction of these homes, drawing on the considerable expertise and experience Kāinga Ora has across the country in unlocking and developing land for public housing."
"Once we have initial high-level concept plans for this site, we will share these with neighbours, stakeholders and the wider community."
Under the Public Housing Plan, Kāinga Ora is working to deliver about 190 extra public houses in Rotorua by 2024. Forty homes are under way in Rotorua in the construction, contract or planning stages, with expected completion in 2022.
Holmes Group managing director Ryan Holmes said they sold the land to a Tauranga-based developer about a month ago, who had on-sold it to Kāinga Ora. Holmes did not know what Kāinga Ora had planned.
"Homes are desperately needed in Rotorua and I hope any development on this land is done to a high standard including incorporating good landscaping and green space. The land is suited for older residents given its flatness and proximity to doctors, supermarkets and the CBD."
He said they walked away from the Ashworth Villas development after costs escalated during the two-year battle to get resource consent, which they eventually got.
He said they had done the hard work to get the consent but it would likely need to be altered for a new development.
Homeless man Fabian Waenga, who has been living in emergency housing since July last year, said it was "awesome news" that a large number of new houses were being built.
Living in emergency housing was "doing his head in", he said, and he hoped he would be one of those chosen to live in the new houses.
"It's always a hassle going to Work and Income and getting the renewal every week and that causes a lot of stress."
He said it wasn't a nice feeling knowing he was costing the taxpayer $1000 a week to live in a motel room.
"That's $52,000 in a year they have spent on me and I couldn't be more grateful but I'd rather have my own place and own area that has its own kitchen."
Hanne Tagalogon, who lives on Malfroy Rd near the empty land, also said the sale was good news as there was a shortage of houses locally.
"It could be a great help for the homeless. There have been heaps of homeless here in Rotorua and if it's help for them, then that's terrific."
She said it was an excellent location because it was near the city and close to lots of things.
A property owner on Ranolf St, who didn't want to be named, said he couldn't stop it so there was no point in worrying about it.
"The 'I don't want it in my backyard' mentality reeks of nimbyism. There has to be a solution to this problem. When people were put into motel accommodation, there was no next step thought out.
"There needs to be a solution so it is what it is. You can't jam 400 houses on that land but it's a step in the right direction. I don't have a lot of say in it so there's no point worrying about things you can't control."
Mayor Steve Chadwick said the council and the housing taskforce were working hard on solutions to the city's housing challenges.
"We have work under way on numerous parts of the district housing plan, we now have a plan being implemented for better management of emergency housing, and progress towards more much-needed public housing is obviously great news.
"It's small steps but very heartening – we're seeing the value of working collaboratively together to find solutions for our community."
The site sold to Holmes Group in April 2018. The lots went on the market in 2019 but buyers were last year refunded their deposits after lengthy delays forced the developers to scrap the plans.
The site was formerly owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, after its plans to build a church there never eventuated.
Previously it was a transit camp for families awaiting state housing and the Voyager Resort Hotel was on the site between 1983 and 1988.
It has had a few owners since, including a Japanese businessman who intended to build a hotel on the site before his plans were crushed by a market crash. The site has been empty since 1988.