Calls for urgent inquiry into emergency housing in Rotorua

By James Perry

Waiariki MP and Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi is calling for an immediate investigation of Rotorua's emergency housing situation.

His call comes after a TVNZ Sunday exposé that revealed "huge allegations" that the most vulnerable whānau in emergency housing are at risk of "sexual assault and emotional and physical abuse - all whilst being paid for by the government".

He is calling for Housing and Urban Development minister Megan Woods to investigate the government agencies and the contractors involved in housing vulnerable whānau in motels.

"Ko tāku ki te Minita inaiatonu nei me whakarite he inquiry, kia āta, wetewete, kia āta wherawhera, kia āta rangahaua he aha ngā mahi kei te whakahaerengia ki roto i te mōtera.
(I say to the Minister launch an inquiry now to find out exactly what is happening in those motels.)

"Kua noho au ki roto i te emergency mōtera, kua rongo atu i ngā mamae, i ngā aue, kua kite au i ngā hāmenetanga, kua kite au i ngā kīkino i roto i te kōtahi pō. Hika, me āku tamariki, kua rongo i te pakaru wini, te whawhai a wētahi, te inu pia ā ētahi me ngā rūma kanukanu nei. Ehara wenā rūma mō te whānau hei rūma nohonga."
(I've stayed in one of those motels, I've seen and heard the pain and trouble that goes on, just in one night staying there. Hika, my children have seen it, the smashing of windows, the fighting between people, drinking, not to mention the ragged condition of the rooms.)

"Launch an inquiry now!" - Rawiri Waititi.

Use Whānau Ora instead

He says the problem of housing for whānau has gone on far too long, and hasn't improved much and says it needs to be treated in the same way emergency accommodation is during natural disasters.

"Me state of emergency te āhuatanga o te kainga kore, kia aro katoa ngā rawa katoa o te kāwanatanga ki tēnei tūāhuatanga."
(Declare homelessness a state of emergency and throw all the government's resources at it.)

Waititi says Whānau Ora also would be a better use of resources to address the issue.

"Kia tarea rātou te mahi ngā mahi taha ki te social, taha ki te hauora, taha ki te whare kia noho ki roto ki te wāhi kotahi. Ko te mate kē, kei tētahi atu pākihi te mahi whare, kei tētahi atu ko te hauora, kei tētahi atu ko te toko i te ora. Me whakatōpū ki te wāhi kotahi."
(Those agencies can look after the social, health and housing issues all at once. One of the issues currently is one contractor takes care of housing the whānau, another looks after the health aspect and another is responsible for the social wellbeing. It needs to be streamlined."

'Utter failure'

On social media, Waititi said, "every single dollar that has been thrown by the government to keep our whānau in motels needs to be reviewed. New spending, and new emergency housing referrals need also to be stopped until the inquiry has concluded.

"The state is perpetuating and enabling the continuation of these providers who are doing more harm than good. All people want is warmth, a roof over their head and kai on the table." 

National housing spokesperson Chris Bishop says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is in "complete denial" over the government's failure in housing. 

“The appalling scenes of intimidation, violence, misery and crime in emergency housing in Rotorua, shown on TVNZ’s Sunday programme, starkly illustrate the government’s utter failure on housing after five years in office.

“Former housing minister Phil Twyford used to say $90,000 per day on motels was too much. Now the government spends $1 million a day, writing big cheques and simply walking away.

No need for action - police

“Emergency housing is great for motel owners who have made millions but appalling for vulnerable people who need help and support as the example of Rotorua demonstrates," Bishop said in a statement. 

Minister Woods says all concerns raised by clients are taken seriously and has instructed housing ministry officials to work with police to determine if client safety was at risk back in April.

She says the ministry assured her Police had advised it there were "mechanisms" already in place "to take care of persons utilising the services", all service providers had Te Kāhui Kāhu accreditation and security providers were licensed. 

"The Ministry of Housing has not received advice from police that further action is needed at this stage. We have also sought independent verification that the ministry is taking all the appropriate steps to ensure client safety. A month ago we took the precaution (well before the TVNZ allegation) of getting a QC to check whether there is anything more we should be doing and to review all the actions that have been taken – the draft findings have determined ‘the ministry has taken reasonable steps at each stage of the process on the basis of information available at the time.’

"More generally, it would be inappropriate to comment further on any specific cases but I would like to acknowledge that the people we support have high and complex needs and are often living in difficult situations."