Accommodation in one of New Zealand’s main tourist towns is starting to get ugly.
The Rotorua Lakes Council has gone to the Environmental Court seeking enforcement orders against nine emergency accommodation providers.
A spokeswoman for the council said the move followed attempts to engage with operators to ensure they complied if they wanted to continue providing emergency accommodation.
Mayor Steve Chadwick says council has an obligation to make sure people have safe housing that meets their needs.
Councilor Tania Tapsell, who chairs the operations and oversight committee, said Checkpoint it was a last chance.
“The staff actually came up to us and said ‘that’s the problem, those are the discussions we’ve been trying to have, it’s not working,'” she said. really sue anyone without trying all the other options first, because keep in mind that, unfortunately, it always comes at a cost to taxpayers.”
The legal decision will come at a cost to taxpayers, but it will be for the good of the tourist hotspot’s reputation, according to some in the area.
A spokeswoman said the legal action followed requests from operators to speak to council to ensure they followed rules and regulations if they were to continue providing emergency accommodation.
Tapsell said the move had enough support from his colleagues.
“One of the tools we have is to make sure people are compliant and that their operations are fit for purpose,” she said.
“So when you have motels that used to be for short-term stays, one or two nights, that’s very different from what it’s used now, for emergency housing, where people actually live in these hotel rooms.”
What followed was a rather ugly chapter for the tourist town. Last month, Checkpoint traveled to Rotorua, where it was told of concerns that tourists may be discouraged.
It has been claimed that the city’s motels are considered an investment class, with the situation being referred to as “domestic poverty tourism”.
Tapsell said some motels were causing “significant social problems,” adding that it wasn’t just the city’s reputation that was at stake.
“We know that known gang members have resided in these hotels,” she said.
“There have been drugs and violence to follow unfortunately. To put that into perspective – a third of all domestic violence caused in a week-to-week in Rotorua goes to emergency accommodation motels. This has therefore been a significant waste, not only of taxpayers’ money – it costs between $20 and $30 million a year in Rotorua alone – but also of police resources and social services resources.”
Rotorua Economic Development chief executive Andrew Wilson has been harshly critical of the emergency housing arrangements in Rotorua.
“We have 13 properties that have been contracted by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, which have full services and management in the operation of these facilities,” he said.
“Then we have a greater number of motels funded by the emergency housing grants provided by the Department of Social Development and there is a real lack of management around these facilities and the impacts on flows are certainly felt by the surrounding community.”
It was unclear how many families and individuals were staying at the nine hotels subject to the lawsuit. Wilson said the situation reflected broader social and political issues facing the country.
“It just seems right that we’re making sure properties that have been used for emergency housing are also fit for purpose,” he said.
“We would love to see more homes being built. Unfortunately, the amount of effort that seems to be going to the wrong side of the housing continuum, it’s one of those things that’s extremely frustrating.”
Nick Fitzgerald, owner of the accommodation and director of the Rotorua Motels Association, said the move would hopefully produce good results.
“For the community at large there will be less disruption. There will be less damage to reputation and also to the community within these emergency housing motels, in fact there will be better services and I assume a greater responsibility within them,” he said.
In a statement, Chadwick told Checkpoint that end-to-end support was in place for those in need of emergency accommodation, but the council had an obligation to ensure people had secure accommodation adapted to their needs.
The council said that over the next two weeks other operators would be asked to engage with the council to ensure they were compliant if they were to continue providing shelter to those in need.
The Department of Social Development (MSD) said the action was part of a compliance process to ensure the safety and suitability of all facilities providing emergency accommodation.
Bay of Plenty Regional Commissioner Mike Bryant said MSD had a good relationship with the Rotorua Lakes Board and were happy to resolve issues as needed.
He acknowledged the board’s role in overseeing resource management and construction law, and that enforcement actions can affect MSD suppliers and customers.
Bryant said the steps to comply with council regulations were for the motels to take, given that they were private companies.
However, MSD encouraged them to engage with the Rotorua Lakes Council.