Rotorua Lakes Council will begin consultation on its proposal to sell 10 reserve sites for housing, following an at-times emotional council meeting today .
The decision was ultimately made by Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick as councillors were divided evenly on their support and opposition to put the proposal out for consultation.
In the meeting, councillor Tania Tapsell expressed her concern that the council was "rushing" and moved a motion that removed the council's in-principle support to sell six sites to Kāinga Ora.
"I've got quite serious concerns about the impact that selling these reserves to Kāinga Ora will have. The certainty we don't have today but have asked for is that these homes would even go to local families.
"We have all been very disappointed at the misery of emergency housing in this community … it's been hugely damaging."
She said she appreciated the concerns of residents living near the identified reserve sites "that Kāinga Ora housing was to also bring the same issues to their neighbourhoods".
She said the council needed to first ask the community what it thought about the proposal, then, if it was supportive, who or what the land would be sold to.
Tapsell believed the community's concern was not about the council reconsidering what the reserves could be but that "they want to ensure these communities remain a safe place".
Tapsell also queried if the proposal was being rushed and if it should be a decision for the next council. The latter statement was met with applause from about 30 people in the public gallery.
Chadwick told the public gallery there was "not to be clapping".
Tapsell's motion was supported by councillors Reynold Macpherson, Raj Kumar, Sandra Kai Fong and Fisher Wang, but was greeted by opposition from the remaining councillors and mayor.
Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said there was a view that Kāinga Ora tenants were "bad people".
"They're not bad people, they're poor people … trying to get a home.
"The reason we have problems in Fenton St is because we've got 800 people side by side in motels that were never designed for permanent housing."
She said people were reluctant to provide housing for "poor people" but the council needed to move swiftly to help them.
Councillor Trevor Maxwell said he was "disappointed" by the motion and it stood in the way of "trying to help the people who need help".
He said it could mean people stay in motels or "back to Kuirau Park".
"We're turning our backs on people who need our help."
Deputy mayor Dave Donaldson said there appeared to be "misdirected" empathy for people who lived near the affected reserves, rather than those in need of housing.
"None of that empathy is directed towards the 400 children growing up in motels in Rotorua city.
"If Kāinga Ora is not enabled, in principle, to build safe, warm homes … then who else will?"
Councillor Raj Kumar said it was "nothing to do with [public housing tenants'] stature in the community" but allowing other agencies to also buy the land.
Councillor Reynold Macpherson said the consultation should also hold hearings and not only invite written feedback as some preferred to provide it face-to-face.
Councillor Fisher Wang said he had concerns about Kāinga Ora's ability to manage public housing and believed it was unfortunate that a briefing from Kāinga Ora would not be until the next Strategy, Policy and Finance meeting so councillors had not been able to put their questions to the agency.
He said Tapsell's motion allowed the council to consult on the proposal with an "open mind". He also supported a hearing as it allowed councillors to hear rationales and ask questions of submitters.
Tapsell said she was not talking about the tenants but rather Kāinga Ora's role as a landlord and its ability to manage tenants and property.
She said removing Kāinga Ora from the council's motion meant it would not be "predetermined".
"These reserves … are our greatest asset, so we need to make sure we get it right.
"My only intention is that we're keeping an open mind, that we be fair and transparent, and that we ensure there's no predetermination in our decision.
"It could come back that [the community] say yes, we accept that social housing is needed ... Kāinga Ora could be the best [organisation] for it, but … I do believe there are other opportunities to explore, including going to the open market.
"I beg of you to please support an open and transparent process."
Chadwick said she would "certainly not be supporting" the motion and said she found it "sad".
"We all want to stop the misery.
"Since 2020 we've been looking at our reserves … that hasn't been done in secret.
"These are our people, who deserve to be decently housed.
"The partnership with the Government was to bring investment to help us get speed and pace to house our people - decently. By excluding Kāinga Ora, do you think on one hand we can ask for infrastructure funding, to help us with housing on private land with private developers?"
The motion was put to a vote, and after it was split evenly for and against, Chadwick used her casting vote as chairwoman of the council to vote it down.
The motion to put the proposal out for public consultation, but including in-principle support for the direct sale of six reserve sites to Kāinga Ora, was also met with an evenly split vote. Chadwick used her casting vote to approve it.
In the meeting, council district development deputy chief executive Jean-Paul Gaston said consultation would be for four weeks and there would be another opportunity for public feedback whether the proposal was pursued through a local bill process or via the Reserves Act, as part of select committee deliberations.
The six sites for sale to Kāinga Ora are on Lee Rd, Coulter Rd, High St, Glenholme Reserve, Turner Drive and Steeles Ln.
Gallagher St, Wrigley Rd, and Park Rd Reserves, as well as Linton Park West, are being considered for sale to other developers, including community housing providers.
The council's proposal states that proceeds from sales would go towards the development or enhancement of the district's reserves.
The council's proposal also states the council prefers to enable the sale of reserves through a local bill process, rather than through the Reserves Act, as it is estimated that the process would take two years or more.
Local Democracy Reporting is public interest journalism funded by NZ On Air.