A damning report on the state of people's wellbeing in Rotorua shows things are bad for many but worse for Māori on virtually all metrics. Photo: Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post
Felix Desmarais, Local Democracy Reporter
The wellbeing of people in Rotorua is getting worse by most measures, a new report says. An iwi leader says "you can't put any sugar over this" but there are ways to address the issues.
The Rotorua Lakes Council pre-election report shows while the district and its people have been "extremely prosperous" in the past, over the past seven years an "increasing trend" of socio-economic deprivation has emerged.
The report states it is adversely affecting the people, visitor experience and "ability to function as a thriving destination to live, work, play and invest".
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick says the pandemic has "exacerbated" existing issues and the problems will not "disappear" with a new council.
Pre-election reports are a legislative requirement aimed at providing a factual basis for candidates' policy platforms.
The report stated the council was concerned measures of wellbeing - such as home and rental affordability, crime, income and secondary school retention - were worsening in Rotorua compared to other regions.
It said the district's overall deprivation rating was eight, where 10 was the worst, citing July data. Some urban suburbs were "amongst the most deprived communities in New Zealand".
Social issues disproportionately affected young people and Māori, the latter group making up 40 percent of Rotorua's population, the report said.
"This is not a picture of what wellbeing looks like for our community."
Almost 30 percent of households were considered to be in the top 10 percent of vulnerable NZ households and 78 percent were "performing below the national average".
About a third of working-age Māori were unemployed, almost 41 percent were not homeowners and more than 18 percent of households did not have access to the internet, it said.
Housing quality for Māori ranked 56th out of 67 territorial authorities due to damp and mould. Crowding in Rotorua dwellings was in the 59th spot.
Increase in deprivation
"Millions of dollars in welfare has to deliver the desired impact of hope and positive change. Instead, Rotorua has seen a steady increase in deprivation since the onset of Covid-19, largely driven by increased benefit rates."
The report also expressed concern about increasing anti-social and criminal behaviour in the once-thriving tourism centre, noting it affected residents and visitors' experience of Rotorua.
Rotorua was 66th equal for crime out of 67, alongside Napier - "a far cry from the safe and thriving city that we aspire to be".
It was influenced by a national "culture of drinking and violence", methamphetamine, and "clusters of motels" used for emergency and transitional housing associated with anti-social behaviour and crime.
Gang culture was attracting young people and bringing "fighting, intimidation and drugs".
Housing was also a dire issue, with a large number of people in emergency accommodation in motels for a long time, it said.
The median household income was $75,000 per year and 11 percent of the district's population received the Job Seeker benefit.
Rental affordability was 32 percent, with the median rent price $458, and home ownership at 43 percent.
Only 55 percent of students in the district left school with NCEA Level 3.
Te Tatau o Te Arawa chairman Te Taru White said the way to address deprivation among Māori was to effect mana motuhake or self determination. Photo: Rotorua Daily Post / Andrew Warner via LDR
The report said if the council partnered with Te Arawa, the community and government agencies it would be "in a strong position to advocate for what works in our communities".
"However, if we keep doing the same things the same way, we will keep getting the same results."
Te Tatau o Te Arawa chairman Te Taru White said the report was a "recognisable picture".
"You can't put any sugar over this."
He said the district was not the same as it had been seven years ago "by a long shot" and he no longer felt safe at night.
The way to address inequities and deprivation among Māori was to effect mana motuhake (self determination), he said.
By Māori, for Maōri
The government needed to fund Māori to find solutions, and build wellbeing objectives into policy.
"Let us lead it. Not them driving and we follow because that will fail. Get out of our way. We don't need a bureaucrat in Wellington telling us what to do."
Restore Rotorua spokesman Trevor Newbrook said the report was "scary and damning".
He believed crime and anti-social behaviour in the city had "reached an unacceptable level" and police needed "far more resources" to manage it.
In his opinion, there seemed to be "no thought or concern" for local people in emergency housing policies.
Newbrook, who has held roles in the National Party Rotorua electorate committee, said in his opinion there did not "seem to be a plan" from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, Kāinga Ora or the council to resolve the issues with emergency accommodation in motels.
Focusing on priority areas
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said there were social issues emerging in Rotorua before Covid-19 and the pandemic exacerbated them.
"This is why we are focusing on our priority areas - housing, community safety and wellbeing.
"The statistics reinforce the story we have been repeatedly telling, and we have gained the attention of government."
Chadwick, who is not running for re-election, said the challenges would not "disappear" with a new council, and the district needed leadership to "carry on with our plan", keep focusing on the three priority areas and work with partners to "build our way out of this situation and achieve better outcomes".
Council district development deputy chief executive Jean-Paul Gaston said he believed it was "not correct" to say there was no thought or concern for local people on emergency housing policy.
"Community safety funding [is in] our annual plan … and [the] council has taken regulatory action on [emergency housing] motels/accommodation providers."
'Pouring in resources'
Rotora police area commander Inspector Phil Taikato said the police's role was to ensure everyone felt and was safe and it worked with community partners to achieve that and those social service providers were doing "great work" to support vulnerable residents.
Housing Minister Megan Woods said Rotorua had a chronic shortage of housing due to a "dire mismatch" between population growth and new housing, something she called a "hangover" from the previous National government.
The government was "pouring resources into the city" to fix it.
That included $146 million over four years for emergency housing contractors with wrap-around support and setting up the Te Pokapū housing hub.
Kāinga Ora, the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development were approached for comment.
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air