Gov't to halt 'out-of-towners' coming to Rotorua for emergency housing - Tabuteau

By Contributor

Mayoral candidate Fletcher Tabuteau at his campaign launch. Photo: Rotorua Daily Post / NZME / Andrew Warner

By Felix Desmarais, Local Democracy Reporter

The government will announce an end to the practice of providing emergency housing to "out-of-towners", Rotorua mayoral candidate Fletcher Tabuteau (Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Rangiwewehi, Ngāti Ngāraranui) claims.

Tabuteau, who officially launched his mayoral bid at Te Puia on Thursday night, told the crowd a government source told him about four imminent announcements on emergency and public housing in the district.

Housing Minister Megan Woods refused to comment on "any mayoral candidates' speeches".

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said it was for the government to announce but it would be a move she would welcome.

At the launch, Tabuteau said he was "on the record with confidence" with his claims, and believed it was a result of a petition he launched in June calling for the move.

"There are people in this room … [who] have been battling the farce that is Fenton Street for a long time.

No mixed-use

"My understanding is that the wheels have started to turn and action is being taken now.

"I have been told the council will be given the power to make determinations on operator standards and be able to notify the government of non-compliance and shut them down," Tabuteau said.

"Mixed-use motels have continued to operate, we all know this. The government will now commit to not funding mixed-use motels anymore.

"There is finally recognition of the terrible fallout that has spilled out to our neighbourhoods and the damage done to our city's reputation as a tourism destination."

He claimed the government had "not necessarily" been placing Rotorua locals in new public homes, and he had been told it would commit to only putting Rotorua residents in Rotorua homes.

The claims were met with applause.

'Before election day'

Speaking to Local Democracy Reporting after the event, Tabuteau said out-of-towners already in motels would likely remain.

"No one's told me what the implementation looks like.

"These announcements, I'm told - and because it's before the election, people can hold me to my word on this - will be over the next weeks and months, but before the election day."

According to the Parliament website, by Friday Tabuteau's petition had 51 signatures, but he was also collecting them in hard copy.

Chadwick was asked if she knew about the announcements Tabuteau claimed and whether they were steps she wanted taken.

She said government announcements were "for the government to talk about".

Housing 'for locals'

The council had "always been clear" of its expectations that the city's emergency housing "should be for our people and that new public housing should be for locals".

"If the government is announcing that, it would be fantastic, and would show the progress being made in our work with the government and its agencies."

Kāinga Ora, the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni were approached for comment.

Housing Minister Megan Woods was asked about Tabuteau's claims.

A spokeswoman for Woods said the minister would not comment "on any mayoral candidates' speeches" and referred Local Democracy Reporting to previous comments.

In May last year, Woods announced the "mixed-use" of motels - taking both government clients and visitors - would end.

Review continues

In May, the Rotorua Daily Post reported fellow mayoral candidate and district councillor Tania Tapsell's claim the practice was continuing.

In the same month, senior council official Anaru Pewhairangi said in a council meeting that the practice was still happening this year.

It is government policy new public homes would be given to those most in need, although local factors such as schools and work would be considered.

Woods previously told the Post she was reviewing the policy and, on Tuesday, a spokeswoman said this was still under way.

In May, a Ministry of Social Development report revealed nearly a third of those in emergency housing were not from Rotorua.

Launch draws crowd

Tabuteau laid out his campaign platform to a standing-room-only gathering at Te Puia's Rotowhio wharenui.

The former NZ First deputy leader said being a "strong, positive force here in Rotorua" would give him pride.

He would focus on economic growth and business and "sell our place", he said.

"Despite all of the struggles going on at the moment we can and we will turn this around."

It was "not all candy and roses" and there were "critical issues" to deal with, he said.

Voters would need to elect people who could come together and "work constructively" to help the council executive carry out a vision for Rotorua, he said.

Wants laser focus

In his view: "The council has lost its focus and is trying to do too much."

He said he would "require a laser focus" from senior council officials, "insisting that they deliver the basics right".

"All spending can only be done on your behalf with a fiscally conservative approach that focuses on real return for our community."

An example, in his view, was the seven deputy chief executive roles.

In his opinion: "These positions are simply not tenable ... and a glaring example of what needs to change immediately."

Tabuteau would also insist on a "massive internal audit" of council spending and future commitments.

'Transparent and inclusive' dialogue

"I will work with whoever the ratepayers vote into [the] council. We're never going to get 100 percent agreement.

"Open and honest dialogue that is transparent and inclusive will be vital."

On Friday, Chadwick said she did not intend responding to "every view expressed by [election] candidates".

"We're in the pre-election period now but there is still important work to be done and decisions to be made by the current council and that's what I'm focused on."

The council did not wish to respond to Tabuteau's remarks.

Tabuteau expressed his view on a number of hot topics in Rotorua.

Three Waters: "A travesty. I do not debate the need for action but … it will cost you more as ratepayers."

Springfield Golf Course: "This term, Springfield Golf Course will continue to be a golf course. It will not be touched. Rotorua council does not have the capacity to go anywhere near it at this stage.

"My long-term commitment is to leave it as a green space."

Reserves proposal: "I don't believe we need to encroach on our public spaces, including our reserves. Rotorua has the opportunity to create greenfield housing spaces [and] … intensify the inner city."

Fenton St: "Rotorua will look after its own but we're not willing to accept the Fenton Street ghetto."

Rotorua Museum: "We can't stop now."

Inner city: "The answer is more people. More foot traffic. More tourists. More residents. Businesses given the confidence to invest."

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air