Emergency housing: Targeted rate investigated

Restore Rotorua chairman Trevor Newbrook. Photo / Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post.

A special charge on emergency housing providers is being investigated but some are concerned it means the system in Rotorua will be long term.

Rotorua Lakes Council is consulting with solicitors about a targeted rate on emergency housing providers to pay for an “escalation of costs” associated with the facilities.

The move was revealed in a council Strategy, Policy and Finance Committee meeting on Thursday.

In the meeting, council organisational enablement deputy chief executive Thomas Colle said emergency housing providers were the “exacerbators” of “an escalation of costs” in the council due to emergency housing “challenges”.

“At the moment [the costs] are falling on the general rate.”

However, he said the council could not yet implement a targeted rate as it would require an amendment to the Long-term Plan and the council’s funding and revenue policies.

“[The council] is just having discussions with our solicitors about how to structure that targeted rate.”

In Thursday’s meeting, councillor Tania Tapsell said she “strongly” supported the targeted rate so it wasn’t just ratepayers who had to “foot the bill”.

"It’s been a tap that we haven’t been able to turn off.

“It’s very hard for us to plan for that increased cost that is coming from unfortunately, a poorly managed situation with emergency housing.”

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick called a point of order saying she was offended by Tapsell’s comment that emergency housing was poorly managed.

Committee chairwoman councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said: “Point of orders are not to be raised because you just don’t agree with what somebody is saying.”

After the meeting, Restore Rotorua chairman Trevor Newbrook told Local Democracy Reporting he believed a targeted rate on emergency housing providers was "fair and equitable".

However, he believed the move suggested the council saw emergency housing as long-term.

Newbrook said he did not believe the targeted rate would mitigate some of the negative social impacts of emergency housing his group had been outspoken about.

Rotorua MP Todd McClay said a targeted rate would further institutionalise emergency housing in Rotorua and "make it permanent".

"You don't create a rate for something that's going to be fixed in six or seven months.”

He said if there were additional costs associated with the use of emergency accommodation the Government should bear the cost, not emergency accommodation ratepayers, as the Government had “created the problem”.

"It's about getting people out of motels so that the harm that's being done to our reputation and to many of the people in the motels is dealt with.

"We need a greater solution than 'let's tax some more'."

Housing Minister Megan Woods was overseas on Friday but she has previously said the previous National Government – of which McClay was part – had “gutted” public housing, creating the need for emergency housing.

She said it would take time to build housing to get people out of emergency accommodation, and Rotorua had a “particularly high number” of people in emergency housing because of population growth.

Government-contracted motels were “working well”, she said.

“I have yet to see critics ... come up with a single solution that is not already under way.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern previously told Local Democracy Reporting the use of motels for emergency accommodation was a “stopgap measure” while public housing stock was addressed.

On Friday, Chadwick told Local Democracy Reporting the council had “always been adamant” using motels for emergency housing “must not be long term”.

"We need more homes before we’ll be rid of the current interim system. A targeted rate may be worthwhile, but it will something for the next council to consider.”

She said the targeted rate could not have been implemented this year as the council had not discussed it previously and there was “not enough time now” to make a Long-term Plan amendment in time for the next financial year.

On Friday, Colle said additional costs included community safety and legal costs but it was “very preliminary stages” and no detailed work had yet been done.

It would be “done and shared with the community at the appropriate time” if the incoming council wished to consider it.

He said a Long-term Plan amendment would trigger a formal consultation process and there was not enough time between now and July 1 to complete it.

Asked how much work with solicitors on the targeted rate had cost to date, Colle said no legal costs had yet been incurred following a recent “preliminary discussion”.

Evolve spokesman Ryan Gray said if emergency housing providers got a special benefit from the council spend which other ratepayers were not entitled to, then it would be “only fair that they pay for it”.

He said he wanted to know what costs ratepayers were incurring from emergency housing and what benefit, if any, all residents received from it.

“As much as we would like to see the end of the need for emergency housing, so long as we are facing a severe housing shortage it will continue to be required.

“The risk in applying a targeted rate could see costs for the general ratepayer decrease but passed on to the taxpayer.

“Ultimately the community as a whole need to work towards increasing housing supply to see the end of the need for emergency accommodation in the first place.”

Waiariki MP Rawiri Waititi was approached for comment.

-Local Democracy Reporting is public interest journalism funded by NZ On Air.

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